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A  practical  inquiry  into  soil-building,  soil-conditioning  and 

plant  nutrition  through  the  action  of  earthworms, 

with   instructions  for  intensive   propagation 

and  use  of  Domesticated  Earthworms 

in       biological  soil-building 



Thomas  J.  Barrett 

A  third  edition  of  this  practical  manual 
became  immediately  necessary  because  of  its 
astounding  demand  around  the  world.  But 
perhaps  this  demand  is  not  so  astounding 
when  we  consider  a  statement  by  Dorothy 
Canfield  in  the  Jtook-of-t  he-Month  Club 
News:  "Harnessing  the  Earthworm  is  a 
'reading  book'  for  anybody  with  sense 
enough  to  know  that  our  very  lives  depend 
on  saving  what  top-soil  the  globe  still  has, 
and  doing  all  that  is  possible  to  create  condi- 
tions in  which  more  can  be  made,  and  made 
more  rapidly  than  by  the  haphazard  leisurely 
methods  of  nature,  which  takes  from  five 
hundred  to  a  thousand  years  to  lay  down  one 
inch  of  top-soil." 

Reader's^Digestj  in  a  thrilling  story  about 
Dr.  Barrett's  experiments  and  achievements 
and  about  this  book,  thus  describes  the  work 
of  the  lowly  but  vital  creature:  "Earth- 
worms, by  their  ceaseless  boring,  keep  the 
earth's  crust  friable;  they  transform  vege- 
table and  animal  waste  into  rich  humus; 
they  change  the  earth's  chemicals  into  solu- 
ble plant  food;  their  countless  trillions  of 
tiny  tunnels  enable  rain  water  and  air  to 
penetrate  the  soil." 

This  first  comprehensive  volume  on  the 
subject  is  filled  not  only  with  fascinating 
reading  but  also,  and  more  practically,  with 
exact  procedures  for  earthworm  culture  and 
for  use  of  earthworms  in  general  farming 
and  orcharding.  Part  I  discusses  "The 

(Continued  on  back  flap) 


From  the  collection  of  the 

7    n 

o  Prelinger 
v    Jjibrary 

San  Francisco,  California 



P.  O.  BOX  438 


A  practical  inquiry  into  soil-building,  soil- 
conditioning,  and  plant   nutrition   through 
the  action  of  earthworms,  with  instructions 
for  intensive  propagation  and  use 
of  Domesticated  Earthworms 
in  biological  soil-building. 




Copyright,   1947,  by 


Boston,  Mass. 

("Earthmaster   Earthworm   Culture  Bed"   copyright 
1942  by  Thomas  J.  Barrett,  Roscoe,  California) 

(second  printing)     1948 
(third  printing)       1950 

Printed  in  the  United  States  of  America 


Prologue 9 


I.     Humus      19 

The  Humus  Factory  .  .  .  The  Earthworm 
Family  .  .  .  Intestines  of  the  Earth  . . .  Why  and 
How  .  .  .  The  New  Frontier 

II.     The  Earthworm  in  Nature   34 

III.     The  Earthworm  in  Scientific  Literature   38 

Soil-Builders  of  Forest  Lands  . . .  Mass  Pro- 
duction of  Topsoil  on  Farm  Land  . .  .  The  Earth- 
worms of  the  Nile  .  .  .  Fertility  of  Earthworm 
Soil .  . .  Subsoil :  Its  Translocation  and  Mixing 
by  Earthworms  .  .  .  Summary 

IV.     Can  It  Be  Done?    56 


V.     A  New  Concept 61 

VI.     Earthworms  in  General  Farming    65 

"My  Grandfather's  Earthworm  Farm"  as  told 
by  Dr.  George  Sheffield  Oliver. 

VII.     Orcharding   With  Earthworms    76 

VIII.     Domesticated  Earthworms   84 

Characteristics  .  .  .  Domesticated  Earthworms 
Versus  Native  Earthworms 

IX.     Breeding  Habits  of  the  Earthworm   96 

X.     Earthworm   Culture    102 

Starting  Earthworm  Culture  .  .  .  Intensive  Earth- 
worm Culture  in  Boxes  .  .  .  Utility  Earthworm 
Culture  Bed 

XI.     Earthmaster  Earthworm  Culture  Bed   131 

Materials  Cut  to  Dimension  . . .  Construction  De- 
tails and  Assembly  . . .  Importance  of  Controlled 
Production  .   .   .   How   to   Service  and  Use  the 
Earthmaster  .  .  .  Harvesting  the  Increase  .  .  . 
Domesticated  Earthworms 

XII.  Earthworm    Tillage     148 

"Earthworms :  150,000  to  the  Acre"  by  Williams 

XIII.  Technical  Discussion:  Facts,  Figures  and  References  153 

"The  Chemical  Composition  of  Earthworm 
Casts"  by  H.  A.  Lunt  and  H.  G.  M.  Jacobson. 

XIV.  The   New  Frontier    168 

The  Gold  Mine  in  the  Sky ...  1000  Pounds  of 

Dry  Vegetation 

Conclusion  —  Summary  176 

Index  .   181 


Diagram  of  Alimentary  Canal  of  Earthworm   27 

The  Rainworm ;  The  Brandling  facing     32 

Dr.  George  Sheffield  Oliver facing    49 

Native    Earthworm     91 

Domesticated  Earthworm   95 

Egg   Capsules    facing    96 

Domesticated   Earthworm  Eggs    99 

Lugbox,  front  and  side  view 107 

Earthworm  Culture  in  Lugboxes ;  A  Double-Handful  Domes- 
ticated  Earthworms    facing  113 

Detail  Plan  for  Lugbox  Earthworm  Culture 120 

Base  Support  and  Dividers  for  Lugbox 121 

Utility  Culture  Bed  (I)    128 

Utility  Culture  Bed  (II)    129 

Utility  Culture  Bed  (III)    130 

The  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed   facing  136 

Earthmaster  Culture  Bed,  Plans  (I)     145 

Earthmaster  Culture  Bed,  Plans  (II)     146 

Earthmaster  Culture  Bed,  Plans   (III) 147 

Christopher  Gallup;  Spring- tooth  Harrow   facing  150 

Of  earthworms:  "It  may  be  doubted  whether 
there  are  many  other  animals  which  have  played 
so  important  a  part  in  the  history  of  the  world 
as  have  these  lowly  organized  creatures." 



"THE  MILLS  of  God  grind  slowly,  yet  they  grind  exceeding 
small,"  sang  the  poet  Longfellow.  As  the  mind  glances  back 
through  geological  ages,  we  see  the  "mills  of  God"  at  work — wind 
and  water,  fire  and  flood,  frost  and  sun,  cosmic  convulsion  and 
seismic  upheaval — all  uniting  in  preparation  of  earth's  surface 
for  the  coming  of  life.  We  see  form  take  shape  from  substance, 
see  order  emerge  from  chaos.  The  primordial  mists  fade  and 
life  slowly  spreads  over  the  low  surfaces  of  the  earth — vegetation, 
animal,  man.  The  seasons  in  orderly  procession  come  and  go; 
law  rules.  The  eternal  cycle  of  nature  has  been  established — 
from  earth,  through  life,  back  to  earth. 

In  contemplative  mood,  we  hold  a  handful  of  rich,  dark 
earth — humus.  It  is  without  form,  yet  within  it  all  forms  are 
potential.  It  is  without  structure,  yet  within  it  all  the  wonders 
of  civilization  sleep.  It  appears  dead,  yet  within  it  all  life  re- 
sides. Negligently  we  toss  it  to  the  ground.  A  movement 
focuses  our  attention.  What  is  that  small,  living  thing  we  have 
so  rudely  disturbed?  Why,  it  is  an  earthworm — just  a  poor, 
naked,  blind  worm,  without  tooth  or  claw,  no  weapon  of  offense 
or  defense,  no  feet  to  run  away,  no  mind  to  be  afraid.  And  yet, 
for  a  moment  we  have  held  within  our  hand  one  of  the  "mills 
of  God,"  one  of  the  major  forces  which  have  wrought  mightily 
upon  the  face  of  the  earth  that  life  may  exist  and  continue  to 


Back  of  the  generalizations  of  science  are  the  epic  stories  of 
mankind.  "Water  seeks  its  own  level"  is  a  generalization.  "So 
what?"  is  the  instant  question  that  springs  into  the  modern, 
curious,  inquiring,  practical  mind.  To  answer  this  question  in 
detail  it  woulld  be  necessary  to  write  the  story  of  the  develop- 
ment of  plant  and  animal  life  on  this  planet — the  development 
of  agriculture,  irrigation  and  power,  the  machine  age,  navigation, 
the  joining  of  oceans  by  canals,  the  conquest  of  the  air  by  air- 
planes, the  annihilation  of  space  by  radio,  the  exploration  into  the 
infinite  reaches  of  the  universe  by  astronomers,  and  all  the 
amazing  phenomena  of  present-day  civilization  which  have 
followed  because  of  the  simple  fact  that  water  seeks  its  own 

Because  water  runs  down  hill,  the  great  catch-basins  of  the 
earth — oceans,  lakes,  depressions,  the  substrata  of  the  earth  it- 
self— are  filled  and  maintained  as  storage  reservoirs  of  this  basic 
essential  of  life. 

"Earthworms  excrete  humus"  is  a  generalization  which 
epitomizes  the  important  findings  of  science  in  the  study  of  these 
lowly  organized  animals.  "So  what?"  comes  again  the  instant, 
practical  question.  It  is  with  the  answer  to  this  question — a  little 
question  with  a  big  answer — that  this  inquiry  deals.  Back  of  the 
generalization  "earthworms  excrete  humus"  is  another  epic  story 
which  would  require  volumes  adequately  to  tell.  This  inquiry 
is  concerned  with  the  practical  side  of  the  story.  "Harnessing 
the  Earthworm"  is  the  theme  of  this  book.  The  theme-song  of 
the  book  is  "Earthworms  Excrete  Humus." 

In  the  light  of  modern  development  and  utilization  of  water 
power,  it  is  difficult  to  realize  that  for  ages  man  watched  the 
quick-flowing  rivers  running  down  to  the  sea,  with  their  un- 
controlled destructive  action,  before  he  even  conceived  of  the 
possibility  of  harnessing  water  power  in  a  primitive  way  for  his 
own  use. 

When  we  inspect  a  magnificent  ocean  liner,  or  study  the 
miracle  of  modern  commerce  and  war  on  the  seven  seas,  it  takes 


an  almost  impossible  flight  of  the  imagination  to  go  back  to  the 
point  where  the  first  faint  idea  of  power-navigation  was  born  in 
the  dim-lit  .brain  of  some  low-browed,  prehistoric  man  as  he  in- 
stinctively clung  to  a  flood-borne  tree  and  rode  to  safety  on  some 
lee  shore.  Other  ages  passed  before  some  primitive  Edison 
proudly  presented  the  first  dugout  canoe  to  his  amazed  world — 
a  miracle  of  creation  which  he  had  painstakingly  hacked  and 
hollowed  out  with  a  crude  stone  implement.  For  still  other  ages 
primitive  man  pushed  and  poled  and  paddled  his  unwieldy  dug- 
out about  in  the  safe  shallows  of  the  shore  waters,  until  some 
venturesome  Columbus  got  caught  off-shore  in  the  teeth  of  a 
gale.  As  he  stood  up  in  the  prow  of  his  canoe — perhaps  in  a 
last  despairing  call  upon  his  gods — his  body  became  a  mast  and 
a  sail,  speeding  him  to  safety  on  the  wings  of  the  wind,  while 
the  idea  of  power-navigation  took  hold  of  his  groping  imagi- 
nation and  awakening  intelligence. 

Thus  it  was  in  the  case  of  agriculture.  The  obvious  possi- 
bility of  tilling  the  soil  and  growing  his  food  did  not  occur  to 
the  mind  of  man  until  very  late  in  the  history  of  the  race.  He 
wandered  over  the  face  of  the  earth  in  search  of  precarious 
sustenance,  subject  to  the  vicissitudes  of  the  elements  and  often 
facing  famine.  Only  with  the  coming  of  agriculture  and  a  sure 
supply  of  food  was  man  able  to  settle  down  in  one  place  and 
develop  from  a  wandering  tribe  into  a  nation  of  people,  rooted 
in  the  soil  of  permanent  habitation. 

In  even  a  superficial  study  of  the  ideas  which  have  influenced 
civilization,  the  inevitable  conclusion  must  be  reached  that  the 
birth  and  development  of  agriculture  is  the  greatest  of  all  in- 
ventions, the  father-mother  foundation  of  life  and  progress  in 
civilization  as  we  know  it.  Food  came  first,  food  still  comes 
first,  and  the  production  of  food  is  still  the  universal  and  prime 
occupation  of  man. 

In  spite  of  all  the  inventions  and  mechanization  that  have 
taken  place  in  the  development  of  agriculture — the  vast  industry 
for  the  chemical  fertilization  of  the  soil,  the  improvement  and 


diversification  of  food  plants  and  animals,  the  processing  and 
preservation  of  foods,  the  great  research  laboratories,  experiment 
stations  and  agricultural  colleges — all  these  things  yet  remain 
mere  superficial  adjuncts  to  facilitate  nature's  own  methods. 
Like  the  utilization  of  water  power,  modern  agriculture  is  simply 
an  exploitation  of  the  natural  resources  and  forces  of  nature, 
through  the  adaptation  and  ingenuity  of  man.  The  dam  is  not 
the  river,  the  ship  is  not  the  ocean,  the  sail  is  not  the  wind.  And 
in  agriculture,  nature  yet  remains  "Mother  Nature"  and  the 
human  race  is  still  a  breast-fed  infant,  drawing  its  sustenance  and 
nutrition  from  the  good  earth  through  processes  of  fertility, 
fertilization,  and  growth  which  have  not  been  improved  upon. 

Studying  the  progressive  destruction  of  the  soil  on  this  con- 
tinent by  mechanized  methods,  agricultural  soil-robbers,  and 
erosion,  we  realize  the  futility  of  chemical  fertilization  and  turn 
to  a  study  of  nature's  perfect  method.  We  are  struck  by  the 
outstanding  contrast  between  the  two  methods :  ( 1 )  Through 
chemical  fertilization  and  mechanization,  with  its  progressive  and 
inevitable  depletion  of  the  natural  fertility  of  the  soil,  man  seeks 
to  feed  the  plant  to  meet  the  temporary  and  immediate  call  for 
more  and  quick  profits;  (2)  nature,  through  her  method,  seeks  to 
build  soil  in  a  continuous  cycle  which  can  meet  with  abundance 
all  present  and  temporary  needs  for  food  production,  but  at  the 
same  time  provide  with  growing  fertility  a  soil  which  will 
support  in  abundance  the  countless  unborn  generations  of  the 

In  a  study  of  the  soil-building  methods  of  nature,  we  have 
found  a  force  at  work  in  the  earth  —  the  earthworm  —  which 
appears  to  have  been  evolved  for  the  specific  job  of  rebuilding 
foe  soil  from  the  biological  end-products  of  plant  and  animal  life. 
We  have  found  this  force  at  work  throughout  the  earth — from 
the  far  north  to  the  far  south,  from  east  to  west,  from  sea-level 
to  the  high  plateaus  and  high  into  the  mountains  —  quietly, 
swiftly,  efficiently,  like  a  good  undertaker,  restoring  to  the  soil  in 


usable  form  everything  that  [  had  Jbeenjtaken .out  of  it  in  the  life 
cycle — from  earth,  through  life,  back  to  earth. 

And  through  contemplation  of  the  vast  activities  of  these 
lowly  creatures,  a  force  in  nature  comparable  to  water-power  in 
its  potentialities,  an  idea  was  born — the  harnessing  of  the  earth- 
worm for  the  intensive  use  of  man. 

From  every  region  of  the  globe  the  products  of  field  and 
forest,  orchard  and  garden,  rivers,  lakes  and  oceans,  ranches  and 
stock  farms,  flow  in  a  never-ending  and  ever-increasing  stream 
to  the  great  centers  of  population.  Thus  by  untold  millions  of 
tons  each  year  the  widely  diffused  fertility  of  the  earth  is 
gathered  up  and  concentrated  in  restricted  areas,  far  removed 
from  the  possibility  of  rebuilding  the  soil  at  the  original  source 
of  production.  A  problem  facing  civilization  today — eventually 
the  problem  of  continued  existence  itself — is  the  problem  of  re- 
building the  soil,  of  restoring  to  the  earth  in  immediately  usable 
form  for  plant  food  the  biological  end-products  of  civilization, 
with  the  vast  tonnage  of  organic  waste  material  incident  to  the 
growing  and  processing  of  food  for  both  man  and  animals. 

The  solution  of  this  problem  is  the  next  great  step  in  human 
progress  and,  once  more,  it  becomes  a  question  of  man's  con- 
quest over  the  potential  forces  of  nature  and  their  adaptation 
to  further  his  own  destiny.  This  time  it  is  a  docile,  willing, 
friendly,  harmless,  easily  controlled  force — the  earthworm — 
complementing  and  supplementing  all  the  other  constructive 
forces  of  nature. 

The  fact  that  earthworms  excrete  humus  is  just  about  as 
important  in  its  relation  to  man  as  the  fact  that  water  flows  down 
hill.  That  intimate,  finely  divided  mixture,  with  chemical  com- 
pounds— humus,  topsoil,  homogenized  earth — possibly  the  most 
mysterious  substance  know  to  science,  is  the  one  basic  source  of 
plant  and  animal  life.  From  a  strictly  practical  standpoint,  the 
body  of  the  earthworm  is  nature's  own  complete,  perfect  factory 
for  manufacturing  this  substance  quickly  and  in  sufficient 
quantity  to  answer  all  the  nutritional  needs  of  man.  In  con- 


sidering  the  earthworm,  we  do  not  exclude  other  forces  of  nature 
just  as  important  in  the  biological  processes  of  soil-building,  but 
it  so  happens  that  the  earthworm  is  one  major  force  in  nature 
which  can  easily  be  placed  under  control,  propagated  and  ex- 
ploited for  human  use  in  an  intensive  manner,  just  as  other  forces 
of  nature,  such  as  water  power  and  electricity,  have  been  adapted 
to  the  service  of  man. 

In  developing  the  idea  of  harnessing  the  earthworm,  we  are 
not  dealing  with  theory,  wild  speculation  or  wishful  thinking — 
we  are  dealing  with  facts.  For  generations  scientists,  students, 
experimenters  and  practical  tillers  of  the  soil  have  studied  the 
earthworm  and  recorded  its  value  in  nature.  Many  individuals 
have  adapted  its  activities  to  their  own  use  and  profit.  Others 
have  carried  out  selective  breeding  and  feeding  experiments  over 
a  period  of  many  years  in  developing  what  we  have  termed 
"domesticated'  earthworms,"  peculiarly  adapted  to  intensive 
production  under  control,  together  with  the  best  methods  of 
propagation,  feeding,  and  practical  utilization  in  the  modern 
scheme  of  life  as  it  is  lived. 

Our  task  in  this  inquiry  is  to  cull  out,  boil  down  and 
present  the  facts  pertinent  to  the  subject  of  harnessing  the  earth- 
worm in  such  a  manner  as  to  inspire  the  reader  to  go  to  work 
and  prove  to  himself,  through  actual  demonstration,  the  possibili- 
ties in  store  for  him.  To  cover  the  subject  in  all  its  related  de- 
tails would  require  years  of  study  and  volumes  of  exposition. 
Scientific  studies  of  the  earthworm  are  voluminous,  taking  in  a 
period  of  more  than  two  hundred  years,  with  references  dating 
back  to  the  time  of  ancient  Greece  and  Egypt.  In  our  search  for 
material  we  have  delved  into  scientific  and  other  literature — 
books  on  zoology,  biology,  botany,  agriculture,  horticulture, 
special  articles  in  magazines,  newspapers,  pamphlets,  agricultural 
bulletins,  experiment  station  records,  and  similar  sources. 

We  have  also  spent  some  years  of  work  in  practical  research 
and  experimentation,  verifying  the  claims  about  earthworms 
which  we  found  in  the  literature  on  the  subject.  Incidental  to 


the  writing  of  this  book,  we  established  the  Earthmaster  Farm 
for  earthworm  research,  taking  a  semi-desert,  infertile  hillside 
and  turning  it  into  a  homesite  of  almost  tropical  luxuriance,  with 
the  aid  of  earthworms  in  soil-building,  so  that  neighbors  and 
visitors  marvel  at  what  we  have  accomplished  with  unfavorable 
land  and  in  a  very  short  time. 

In  presenting  our  findings,  we  will  use  quotations,  comments, 
personal  experiences  and  observations,  interviews  and  practical 
experiences  of  individuals  who  have .  harnessed  the  earthworm 
and  proved  its  value,  letters  from  earthworm  culturists,  and  other 
testimony.  It  is  our  object  to  present  just  enough  material  to 
show  clearly  the  possibilities  inherent  in  harnessing  the  earth- 
worm for  intensive  human  use.  In  some  instances  we  may 
digress,  but  to  subjects  which  have  a  direct  bearing  on  the  task  in 

This  book  is  not  a  treatise,  but  it  is  intended  as  an  inspiration 
to  further  study  and  to  practical  action. 

It  has  been  said  that  the  first  thing  to  do  with  a  fact  is  to 
recognize  it  and  the  practical  thing  to  do  with  a  fact  is  to  use  it. 
We  present  the  facts  for  your  recognition  and  use  and  dedicate 
this  work  to  all  those  who  love  the  soil  and  the  eternal  cycle  of 
life  which  springs  from  it. 

Earthmaster  Farms 
Roscoe,  California 


The  Earthworm  and  Its  Environment 


ALL  FLESH  is  one,  including  man,  in  its  demand  for  nutrition 
to  survive,  but  man  alone  demands  infinitely  more  that  mere  nutri- 
tion. Through  his  conquest  over  the  forces  of  nature,  man  has 
adapted  himself  to  all  conditions  and  environments  and  lives 
wherever  there  is  air  to  breathe — on  the  surface  of  the  earth,  in 
the  sky,  under  the  earth,  on  the  surface  of  the  waters,  under  the 
sea.  His  frozen  footprints  are  preserved  for  future  ages  in  the 
regions  of  the  north  pole  and  the  trail  of  the  tractor  pushes 
steadily  into  the  unexplored  continent  locked  in  everlasting  win- 
ter around  the  south  pole.  His  air-conditioning  creates  a  cool 
spot  for  luxurious  comfort  astride  the  equator,  and  he  squats  non- 
chalantly within  the  rim  of  boiling  volcanic  cauldrons  and  takes 
the  temperature  of  mother  earth  and  diagnoses  her  fevers  and 

To  serve  the  demands  of  the  ubiquitous  adaptability  of  man, 
to  speed  up  production  of  necessities  and  luxuries  for  his  use,  to 
create  new  and  useful  things  to  satisfy  his  growing  needs  and  de- 
sires, are  some  of  the  practical  ends  of  scientific  research.  Be- 
cause of  his  adaptability  and  conquest  over  the  forces  of  nature, 
man  has  cut  loose  from  his  mother's  apron  strings — the  earth — 
and  we  find  the  populations  of  civilization  throughout  the  world, 
in  large  part,  marooned  on  the  islands  of  villages,  towns,  and 
cities,  segregated  and  separated  from  the  land — vast  aggregations 
of  restless,  discontented  children,  playing  with  the  machines  and 



toys  which  science  and  invention  have  provided  and  uniting  in  a 
mighty  cry  and  cosmic  bawl  for  food. 

Let  the  flow  of  food  to  the  cities  stop  for  a  single  day,  and 
its  cessation  is  headline  news.  Let  the  flow  stop  for  two  days, 
and  it  becomes  tragedy  of  major  proportions.  Let  it  stop  for  a 
week,  and  panic  seizes  the  people  as  starvation  takes  hold. 

In  checking  over  the  annual  requisition  of  the  human  family 
for  food  and  supplies,  we  are  staggered  by  such  items  as  these: 
Rush  the  harvest  of  4,954,000,000  bushels  of  wheat,  and  prepare 
366,000,000  acres  of  land  for  replanting.  Husk  4,9142,000,000 
bushels  of  corn  and  prepare  209,100,000  acres  of  land  for  re- 
planting. Round  up  182,365,000  head  of  cattle  for  beef  and  but- 
ter, milk  and  shoes.  Ship  38,159,000  bales  of  cotton  to  the  fac- 
tories, with  3,692,000,000  pounds  of  wool,  that  we  may  be  clothed 
and  kept  warm.  And  in  the  United  States,  where  we  are  pecu- 
liarly peanut-conscious,  we  find  a  small  item  of  1,291,655,000 
pounds  of  peanuts ;  also  a  citrus  -fruit  item  of  67,067,000  boxes. 

In  the  annual  Year  Book  of  the  United  States  Department 
of  Agricultural  Statistics,  several  hundred  pages  of  fine  print  are 
required  to  tabulate  and  report  on  the  annual  food  crops  of  the 
United  States  and  the  world.  We  have  mentioned  a  few  of  the 
major  items  that  are  included  in  the  annual  demands  of  the  hu- 
man family  for  food  and  clothing.  We  have  briefly  indicated  the 
size  of  the  order  to  call  attention  to  the  fact  that  ^the^basic^source 
of  all  these  materials  is  humus,  the  immediately  usable  supply  of 
which  is  concentrated  in  the  eighteen-inch  surface  crust  of  the 
earth  and  in  the  more  favored  and  very  limited  areas  of  the  globe. 
And  humus  is  not  found  in  inexhaustible  mines  below  the  sur- 
face of  the  earth —  in  the  better  soils  it  diminishes  almost  to  th 
vanishing  point  at  a  depth  of  thirty-six  inches.  It  is  there 
tentially,  just  as  food  is  potentially  present  in  the  crude  elements 
of  the  earth. 

JHumus  is  the  end  product  of  plant  and  animal  life  and  must 
be  created  for  current  use  from  day  to  day  and  season  to  season. 
In  the  cycle  of  nature,  the  available  material  must  be  used  over 

HUMUS  21 

and  over ;  it  is  nature's  method  to  convert,  transmute,  disintegrate, 
rebuild.  All  vegetation,  all  life,  contributes  its  quota.  From  the 
single-celled  yeast  plant  floating  in  the  wind  to  the  majestic 
sequoia  gigantea,  towering  nearly  three  hundred  feet  into  the  air, 
from  microbe  to  man — all  have  been  couched  in  the  bedding 
ground  of  humus.  And  all  eventually  find  their  way  to  the  com- 
mon burial  place — the  compost  heap  o$  nature — to  be  converted 
into  humus  and  serve  in  the  unbroken  cycle  of  nature. 

For  the  most  part,  the  populations  of  the  earth  dwell  along 
seashores  and  lakes,  along  rivers  in  the  valleys,  and  in  the  low- 
lying  foothills  and  great  plains  of  the  torrid  and  temperate  zones, 
where  the  great  humus  factories  of  nature  are  located.  Because 
water  runs  down  hill,  this  is  so.  From  the  dust-laden  winds  of 
the  desert,  from  star  dust  and  the  dust  of  disintegrating  comets 
and  planets,  from  the  weathered  face  of  the  rocks  and  hills  and 
mountains,  nature  gathers  her  materials,  and  from  the  mother- 
waters  of  the  sea  she  creates  the  rains  and  washes  the  atmos- 
phere. And  in  the  end,  from  the  millions  of  square  miles  of  high 
ground,  the  waters  find  their  way  into  all  the  settling  basins  of 
the  earth  to  deposit  the  elements  of  life  in  the  humus  factories 
of  nature. 


In  her  vast  humus  factories,  nature  uses  many  processes — 
slow  combustion,  chemical  disintegration,  bacterial  decomposi- 
tion, fermentation,  heat,  light,  darkness,  wind  and  rain,  frost  and 
sun — and  earthworms;  all  these  unite,  finally  to  form  that  thin 
surface  layer  of  dark  earth  in  which  life  is  rooted.  As  volumes 
have  been  written  and  are  constantly  being  written  on  these  many 
processes  through  which  nature  attains  her  ends,  we  will  not 
burden  these  pages  with  detailed  discussion  on  this  subject.  Suf- 
fice it  to  say  that  many  of  the  processes  are  slow,  requiring  years, 
centuries,  ages — yes,  aeons  of  time;  for  the  first  thin  blanket  of 
parent  material  of  humus  which  was  spread  over  the  surface  of 


the  earth  in  preparation  for  the  birth  of  life  was  the  deposit  of 
star  dust,  disintegrating  planets  and  comets,  and  the  invisible  par- 
ticles brought  to  the  earth  by  the  rays  of  the  sun  and  other  whirl- 
ing bodies  which  are  scattered,  like  wind-blown  particles  of  dust, 
throughout  the  infinite  reaches  of  space. 

Taking  the  earth  as  we  find  it,  the  creation  of  humus  from 
dead  vegetation  and  animal  life  is  usually  a  process  measured  in 
terms  of  weeks  and  months,  or  a  number  of  years,  with  one  no- 
table exception:  When  a  requisition  is  put  in  for  a  few  million 
tons  of  humus,  to  be  prepared  over  niffht  for  emergency  plant 
food  for  tomorrow,  nature  marshals  her  vast  earthworm  army  to 
a  feast;  and,  behold,  the  miracle  is  accomplished — the  order  is 
filled  and  the  crying  children  of  the  plant  world  are  fed — the 
night-soil  of  earthworms,  castings,  is  deposited  on  and  near  the 
surface  of  the  earth,  ready  for  immediate  use — for  earthworms 
excrete  humus.  No  waiting,  no  worry,  no  confusion — just  the 
ordinary  routine,  daily  transaction  of  business  in  the  humus  fac- 
tories of  nature. 

Earthworms  are  the  shock-troops  of  nature  for  the  jjuick. 
production  of  humus  while  she  is  waiting  upon  her  slower  pro- 
cesses.    Climaxing  her  millions  of  years  of  experimentation,  she 
created  in  miniature  a  perfect  humus  mill,  easily  adapted  to  the 
use  of  man.     In  the  body  of  tfre  earthworm  we  find  a  complete,  i 
high-speed   humus^  factory^  combining   all  the   processes — both) 
mechanical  and  chemical — for  turning  out  the  finished  product,  I 
topsoil,  properly  conditioned  for  best  root  growth  and  contain-  \ 
ing  in  rich  proportion  and  in  water-soluble  form  all  the  elements 
required  of  the  earth  for  plant  nutrition. 


For  detailed  information  and  classification  of  earthworms  in 
general,  we  refer  the  reader  to  the  voluminous  writings  on  the 
subject  of  "Earthworms"  which  may  be  found  in  the  Zoology 
section  in  the  reference  department  of  most  public  libraries.  We 

HUMUS  23 

are  interested  in  the  function  and  work  of  the  earthworms  rather 
than  in  a  study  of  the  animal  from  a  zoological  standpoint. 

While  many  hundreds  of  species,  including  marine  worms, 
are  comprised  in  the  order  Phylum  annelida,  our  interest  centers 
in  the \_Oligochaeta jand  that  portion  known  to  science  as  the 
"small-bristled  ringed  worm."  They  are  distributed  all  over  the 
planet,  including  the  islands  of  the  sea,  from  the  tropics  to  ex- 
treme northern  and  southern  latitudes,  except  in  the  arctic  and 
sub-arctic  regions  and  glacial  and  sub-glacial  regions  where  the 
ground  may  be  frozen  to  great  depths  over  long  periods  of  time. 

In  size,  earthworms  range  all  the  way  from  small  worms  of 
almost  microscopic  dimensions  to  giant  annelids  measuring  from 
three  feet  to  eleven  feet  long.  The  large  members  of  the  family 
are  found  in  certain  parts  of  South  America,  Africa,  Ceylon  and 
Australia.  The  largest  of  the  giant  worms,  Megascolides  Austra- 
lis,  is  found  in  Australia,  where  authentic  measurements  of  worms 
up  to  eleven  feet  in  length  have  been  made. 

In  the  torrid  and  temperate  zones  more  than  one  thousand 
^eciej  of  earthworms  (some  authorities  say  more  than  1800) 
live  and  procreate.  Whatever  the  name,  size,  or  habitat,  earth- 
worms have  one  important  characteristic  in  common — they  swal- 
low the  earth  with  all  that  it  contains,  and  in  the  process  of  di- 
gestion and  elimination  excrete  practically  neutral  humus — top- 
soil  rich  in  water-soluble  nutrients  for  plant  life. 

Narrowing  the  field  down  still  more  to  the  particular  pur- 
pose of  this  inquiry,  we  are  interested  in  the  group  of  earthworms 
common  to  the  United  States  and  known  under  various  popular 
and  colloquial  names,  such  as  "angleworms,"  "dewworms,"  "night 
crawlers,"  "night  lions,"  "fishworms,"  "rainworms,"  etc.  The 
last  name,  "regenwurm,"  is  very  generally  used  in  the  extensive 
German  literature  on  the  subject. 

For  practical  purposes  and  for  reasons  given  later,  we  shall 
eliminate    from    consideration    all  worms   except   the 
(Lumbricus  terrestris),  illustrated  in  Fig.  1,  and  thefBranHTu 


or  stinking  earthworm  (Helodrilus  foetidus),  illustrated  in  Fig. 
2.     The  brandling  is  commonly  known  as  the  manure  worm. 

I  rainworm/  is  a  native  of  the  fields  and  forest  lawns,  gar- 
dens, orchards,  meadows,  and  pastures.  It  commonly  lives  in  the 
upper  eighteen  inches  of  soil,  devouring  ceaselessly,  day  and 
night,  dead  roots,  leaves,  and  all  dead  organic  materials,  digest- 
ing and  utilizing  them  to  serve  its  bodily  needs  and  finally  eject- 
ing humus  in  the  form  of  castings — the  manure  of  earthworms. 
But  the  rainworm  is  not  entirely  concerned  with  the  thin  surface 
layer  of  the  earth,  though  that  surface  layer  is  its  main  feeding 
and  breeding  ground.  It  quite  generally  burrows  to  a  depth  of 
jfive  or  six  feet,  and  earthworm  burrows  have  even  been  found  at 
depthes  of  from  ten  to  fourteen  feet.  From  these  deep  burrows 
into  the  subsoil  the  earthworm  returns  to  the  surface,  bringing 
new  mineral  parent  material  for  topsoil  and  depositing  it  in  the 
form  of  castings.  These  castings  from  the  deep  layers  of  the 
earth  surface  are  not  just  sterile,  mineralized  earth.  In  the  jour- 
ney through  the  alimentary  canal  of  the  worm  they  have  under- 
gone chemical  changes,  taken  on  new  material,  been  ground  and 
thoroughly  mixed,  and  when  they  are  deposited  on  and  in  the 
immediate  surface  of  the  earth  this  new  material  has  become 
humus-laden  topsoil,  ready  for  immediate  use  by  growing  vegeta- 

In  the  colder  climates,  the  rainworm  burrows  deep  below  the 
frost  line  during  the  winter  season,  lying  dormant  while  the 
ground  is  frozen,  but  coming  to  the  surface  as  soon  as  the  spring 
thaw  has  warmed  the  earth.  However,  the  rainworm  is  very 
hardy,  remains  active  in  quite  low  temperatures,  and  has  even 
been  observed  in  slushy  snow. 

Under  particularly  favorable  conditions,  the  rainworm  often 
attains  a  length  of  twelve  inches  or  more.  A  more  usual  length 
for  a  fully  mature  rainworm  is  five  or  six  inches,  with  an  average 
length  of  eight  inches.  

The(1brano!iinfr  or  manure  worm]  (Helodrilus  -foetidus),  is 
a  small,  very  active,  very  prolific  worm,  characterized  by  a  dis- 

HUMUS  25 

agreeable  odor  when  crushed  or  injured.  Its  favorite  habitat  is 
manure  piles  and  compost  heaps,  hence  its  name  "manure  worm." 
Contrary  to  general  belief,  however,  the  manure  worm  readily 
adapts  itself  to  the  same  environments  favored  by  the  rainworm. 
The  brandling  gorges  voraciously  on  manure  and  decaying  vege- 
tation, digesting,  deodorizing  and  converting  all  such  material  into 
rich,  clean  humus,  with  an  odor  similar  to  fresh  turned  meadow 
earth.  The  castings  of  the  manure  worm,  like  those  of  the  rain- 
worm and  the  many  other  species  of  earthworms,  contain  a  very 
high  percentage  of  water-soluble  plant  nutrients. 

The  manure  worm  is  not  a  deep-burrowing  worm  like  its 
relative  the  rainworm,  but  prefers  to  work  in  the  surface  areas 
under  rotting  vegetation,  manure,  and  other  decaying  materials. 
However,  after  becoming  adapted  to  the  soil,  it  is  soon  a  good 
burrower  and  will  take  care  of  itself  in  almost  all  climates.  The 
manure  worm  is  found  widely  distributed  throughout  the  United 
States  and  in  Europe,  both  in  the  southern  as  well  as  in  the  colder 
latitudes.  In  size,  it  may  attain  a  length  of  six  inches  or  more, 
but  in  measuring  a  large  number  of  mature  manure  worms  we 
determined  an  average  length  of  about  four  inches.  In  intensive 
propagation  and  use  of  earthworms,  size  is  important  and  the 
smaller  varieties  can  be  utilized  with  better  results  than  can  the 
larger  worms.  This  point  will  be  emphasized  later. 

Finally,  when  we  come  to  the  subject  of  the  intensive  propa- 
gation and  use  of  earthworms  in  soil-building  for  agriculture,  hor- 
ticulture, orcharding,  nursery,  and  home  gardening,  we  shall  dis- 
cuss somewhat  at  length  what  we  have  termed  "domesticated 
earthworms."  The  term  "domesticated"  is  applied  to  earthworms 
which  have  been  developed  through  selective  breeding  and  feed- 
ing methods  in  a  controlled  environment  especially  created  to  fa- 
vor intensive  propagation,  as  opposed  to  native  earthworms  which 
are  found  in  most  fertile,  well-watered  soils. 

From  this  brief  discussion  of  the  earthworm  family,  we  pass 
to  a  consideration  of  the  feeding  habits  and  digestive  functions 
of  earthworms,  which  make  them  possibly  the  most  valuable  ani- 
mals on  earth. 


We  are  indebted  to  the  ancient  Greek  philosopher,  Aristotle, 
for  the  apt  phrase  which  literally  describes  the  function  of  these 
master-builders  of  topsoil.  He  called  earthworms  "intestines  of 
the  earth/*  W.  L.  Powers,  Soil  Scientist,  Oregon  Agricultural 
Experiment  Station,  termed  the  earthworm  a  Colloid  mill."  This, 
too,  is  a  very  good  descriptive  name  to  indicate  the  activity  of 
earthworms  in  soil-building.  They  literally  serve  as  colloid  mills 
to  produce  the  intimate  chemical  and  mechanical  homogenized 
mixture  of  fine  organic  and  inorganic  matter  which  forms  their 
castings.  In  the  mixing  which  takes  place  in  the  alimentary  canal 
of  the  earthworm,  the  ingested  materials  undergo  chemical 
changes,  deodorization  and  neutralization,  so  that  the  resultant 
castings  (manure)  are  a  practically  neutral  humus,  rich  in  water- 
soluble  plant  food,  immediately  available  for  plant  nutrition. 

As  flexible  as  silk,  as  strong  as  steel — these  similes  may  well 
describe   the   bodv  of    an   earthworm.     Known   as   one   of    the 

strongest  animals  innature  for  its  size,  an  earthworm  weighing 
less  than  one-thirtieth  of  an  ounce  may  move  a  stone  weighing 
as  much  as  two  ounces.  The  family  name,  annelida,  derived 
from  the  Latin  word  anellus  (a  ring),  is  graphically  descriptive 
of  the  earthworm,  whose  body  is  formed  by  a  series  of  from  200 
to  400  muscular  rings  (more  or  less,  depending  on  the  species), 
closely  woven  togethei  to  form  a  tube  of  great  strength,  stream- 
lined to  the  ultimate  for  functional  performance. 

Considered  primarily,  man  himself  is  an  organism  of  bone 
and  muscle,  brain  and  nervous  system,  organ  and  tissue,  inte- 
grated around  a  digestive  tube — the  alimentary  canal — about 
thirty  feet  long.  The  earthworm  is  a  digestive  tube  alone,  strip- 
ped of  all  external  incumbrance  which  might  interfere  with  its 
life-function  of  digestion  and  equipped  with  just  enough  instinc- 
tive intelligence  to  carry  out  its  feeding  activities  without  too  fine 

Thus,  everything  which  opposes  itself  to  the  blind  attention 
of  the  earthworm  becomes  something  to  be  devoured.  When  a 






—  CROP 



(After  Charles  Darwin) 


stone  too  large  to  swallow  is  encountered,  the  worm  eats  its  way 
around,  giving  the  surface  a  chemical  treatment  in  passing  and 
possibly  sucking  off  a  few  choice  morsels  from  the  weathered 
surface.  If  small  enough,  the  particle  is  swallowed,  to  serve  as 
a  millstone  in  the  gizzard  while  being  subjected  to  the  solvent 
action  of  acids  and  alkalies  so  abundantly  provided  in  the  digestive 
secretions.  If  a  piece  of  tough  cellulose,  such  as  dry  leaf  stem, 
twig,  or  bit  of  wood,  is  met  with,  it  may  be  coated  with  a  saliva- 
like  secretion  and  left  to  soften  (perhaps  for  days  or  weeks), 
later  to  resume  its  journey  of  disintegration  and  digestion  through 
the  tubular  intestinal  mill.  Figuratively  speaking,  the  worm  says 
"the  world  is  my  oyster,"  and  proceeds  literally  to  swallow 
it  with  everything  it  may  contain. 

To  be  more  specific,  in  action  the  earthworm  employs  the 
^principle  of  the  hydraulic  drill,  softening  the  earth  in  front  of  it, 
if  necessary,  with  its  secretions  and  sucking  it  into  its  mouth. 
Thus,  blindly,  the  worm  eats  its  dark  way  through  the  densest 
earth,  including  tough,  compact  adobe  and  clay  soils  riddling  and 
honeycombing  the  soil  to  a  depth  of  ten  feet  or  more  with  aerat- 
ing tunnels  or  burrows,  as  it  swallows  the  earth  with  all  that  it 
contains — dead  roots,  vegetable  and  animal  remains,  bacteria,  the 
minute  and  microscopic  vegetable  life  of  the  soil,  and  mineral 
elements.  Being  truly  a  blind  dweller  of  the  dark,  highly  sen- 
sitive to  light,  the  earthworm  is  a  nocturnal  animal,  coming  to 
the  surface  at  night  to  feed  on  organic  litter.  By  day  it  pushes 
slow  tunneling  operations  below  the  surface,  the  softened  and 
almost  liquified  material  finding  its  way  into  the  storage  space 
of  the  worm's  crop. 

Paul  Griswold  Howes,  Curator  of  Natural  History  at  the 
Bruce  Museum  of  Natural  History,  gives  a  concise  statement  of 
the  feeding  habits  of  worms  in  his  wonderfully  interesting  book, 
Backyard  Exploration,  as  follows: 

Worms  are  the  most  numerous  at  the  surface  of  the  ground 
at  night . . .  They  come  to  the  surface  to  feed,  as  they  are  truly 
nocturnal  animals  . . .  They  do  actually  consume  large  quantities 

HUMUS  29 

of  vegetable  matter — not  living  leaves  and  grass,  but  the  dead 
and  dying  vegetable  matter  that  lies  upon  the  ground.  Holding 
fast  in  their  burrows  by  the  tail-end,  the  worms  reach  out  in  all 
directions,  stretching  themselves  to  great  lengths  and  grasping 
bits  of  food,  which  they  pull  below  the  surface.  Here,  part  of  the 
material  is  eaten,  while  vast  quantities  of  it  pass  into  vegetable 
mould  that  helps  to  make  other  plants  grow.  [Editorial  note: 
All  vegetable  remains  not  immediately  consumed,  are  eventually 
eaten  and  pass  through  the  alimentary  canals  of  worms  in  their 
final  transformation  into  humus  or  soluble  plant  food.] 

In  addition  to  the  vegetable  matter  which  the  worms  eat,  great 
quantities  of  soil  also  pass  through  this  vast  army.  From  this 
soil  they  assimilate  what  is  useful  to  them,  leaving  the  remainder 
each  night  upon  the  surface  in  the  lobed  and  familar  castings 
which  everyone  has  seen.  Stop  for  a  minute  to  consider  the 
countless  individual  worms  which  inhibit  every  acre  of  ground. 
Think  then  of  the  weight  and  depth  of  a  single  year's  castings 
that  are  left  upon  the  surface  and  you  will  begin  to  realize  that 
the  worms  are  actually  responsible  for  the  ploughing  and  turning 
over  of  the  earth  as  the  years  go  by. 

Continuing  our  journey  through  the  earthworm,  all  the  in- 
gested material — vegetable  matter,  animal  matter,  living  and  dead 
bacteria,  mineral  earth,  small  stones,  etc. — passes  into  the  crop 
and  thence  into  the  gizzard  as  a  semi-liquid,  plastic  mass,  carry- 
ing its  own  grindstones.  In  the  gizzard  everything  is  subjected 
to  the  grinding,  disintegrating  and  mixing  action  of  this  efficient 
organ,  as  the  abundant  digestive  juices  are  poured  in  to  exert 
their  chemical  and  solvent  action.  No  form  of  organic  material 
escapes,  for  the  digestive  secretions  of  the  earthworm  are  similar 
to  those  of  the  higher  animals,  including  the  human  family.  Car- 
bohydrates, fats,  proteins,  cellulose — all  are  grist  for  the  mill  of 
the  earthworm;  for  anything  that  cannot  be  digested  is  at  least 
so  finely  comminuted  that  no  structural  form  remains. 

Special  mention  should  be  made  of  the  highly  remarkable 
calciferous  glands  which  are  located  in  the  walls  of  the  esophagus 
of  the  earthworm.  Nothing  like  them  is  known  in  any  other  ani- 
mal. These  calcium-secreting  glands  pour  out  abundant  quanti- 


ties  of  fluid  rich  in  calcium,  which  exerts  its  neutralizing  action 
upon  the  acids  of  the  organic  and  inorganic  mass  of  material 
which  daily  passes  through  the  alimentary  canal  of  the  earth- 
worm— a  quantity  which  may  equal  or  exceed  its  own  weight 
every  twenty- four  hours. 

The  anterior  one-third  of  the  worm's  body  contains  the  vital 
organs  and  organs  of  the  digestive  system,  including  the  calcif- 
erous  glands,  crop,  gizzard,  and  reproductive  organs.  The  re- 
maining two-thirds  contains  the  intestine.  As  stated  before,  the 
entire  worm  is  comprised  in  a  muscular  tube  of  from  two  hun- 
dred to  four  hundred  strongly  contractile  muscular  rings,  the 
number  of  rings  varying  in  different  species. 

Continuing  with  the  digestive  process,  after  being  discharged 
from  the  gizzard  into  the  intestine,  the  material  is  subjected  to 
further  mixing  action  as  it  is  moved  slowly  along  the  alimentary 
canal,  taking  on  valuable  added  elements  from  the  intestinal  and 
urinary  secretions  in  which  it  is  continually  bathed.  Particularly 
valuable  is  the  admixture  of  the  urinary  secretions,  on  account 
of  the  ammonia  content.  In  Principles  and  Practice  of  Agricul- 
tural Analysis,  Dr.  Harvey  W.  Wiley  states : 

A  considerable  portion  of  the  ammonia  in  the  soil  at  any 
given  time  may  also  be  due  to  the  action  of  worms,  as  much  as 
.018  per  cent  of  this  substance  having  been  found  in  their  excre- 
ment [castings].  It  is  probable  that  nearly  the  whole  of  the  vege- 
table matter  in  the  soil  passes  sooner  or  later  through  the  alimen- 
tary canal  of  these  ceaseless  soil-builders,  and  is  converted  into 
the  form  of  humus. 

In  its  passage  through  the  worm,  whatever  nutriment  that 
may  be  necessary  for  the  worm's  own  body-building  and  func- 
tioning is  absorbed  from  the  humidified,  semi-liquid,  and  emulsi- 
fied material.  After  having  performed  this  nutritional  function, 
the  material  is  finally  ejected  as  castings — such  finely  divided, 
thoroughly  homogenized  earth  that  only  chemical  analysis  can 
resolve  it  into  its  component  parts.  In  other  words,  the  ulti- 
mate end-product  of  the  activity  of  earthworms  is  humus — the 

HUMUS  31 

clean,  sweet-smelling  subtstance  of  new-turned  earth —  the  bed- 
ding, rooting  and  growing  material  of  life  itself. 

WHY     AND     HOW 

In  considering  the  soil-building  possibilities  inherent  in  har- 
nessing the  earthworm,  the  subject  matter  naturally  falls  under 
two  main  headings,  viz:  "Why  It  Can  Be  Done"  and  "How  It 
Can  Be  Done."  The  preceding  sections  have  been  introductory 
to  these  two  divisions.  As  a  preliminary  generality,  we  might 
say,  "The  reason  it  can  be  done  is  because  it  has  been  done."  The 
remaining  chapters  of  this  book  are  really  an  elaboration  of  this 

At  this  point  we  feel  justified  in  a  brief  digression  to  con- 
sider the  practical  purposes  of  soil-building,  as  we  conceive  it. 

Collectively,  we  think  of  man  as  the  master  of  the  earth, 
through  his  universal  adaptability  harnessing,  controlling,  and 
directing  the  forces  of  nature.  Through  this  adaptability,  the 
present-day  environment  of  man  has  become  the  entire  earth. 
Thanks  to  his  ability  to  comprehend,  direct  and  utilize  the  forces 
of  nature,  he  can  now  live  in  comparative  comfort  wherever  there 
is  air  to  breathe.  Nevertheless,  today  and  in  all  the  days  to  come, 
each  individual  is  encompassed  by  his  own  particular  environ- 
ment and  must  work  out  his  own  salvation  in  that  environment. 

Philosophically,  we  listen  to  the  full-bellied  poet  blithely  sing, 
"I  am  the  master  of  my  fate,  the  captain  of  my  soul."  But  until 
the  individual  can  paraphrase  the  poet  with  a  more  literal  and 
practical  statement,  "I  am  the  master  of  the  earth,  the  captain  of 
the  soil,"  he  is  liable  to  live  in  insecurity  and  fear  of  the  future. 

Security — what  a  comforting  word!  Security  means  ade- 
quate food —  a  roof  over  one's  head — clothes  on  one's  back — a 
place  in  the  sun — freedom  from  fear — no  apprehension  for  the 
future.  To  the  individual  who  desires  surely  to  build  security 
for  himself  and  his  loved  ones,  we  hope  to  bring  a  knowledge  of 


the  means  through  which  he  may  become  the  literal  master  of 
his  own  earth. 

All  the  necessities,  comforts,  satisfactions,  and  luxuries  of 
civilization  wait  upon  the  production  of  food — and  food  comes 
from  topsoil.  As  a  master-builder  of  topsoil  throughout  the  ages, 
the  earthworm  in  nature  has  played  a  leading  role.  Under  scien- 
tific control  and  intensive  propagation,  the  earthworm  is  destined 
to  play  a  major  part  in  the  future  development  of  topsoil  and  its 
maintenance  at  the  highest  point  of  productive  capacity. 

The  topsoil  of  the  future,  beginning  with  the  immediate 
present,  will  be  built  by  man  exactly  to  meet  his  balanced  food 
requirements.  Working  intelligently  with  the  same  tools,  mate- 
rials, and  forces  with  which  nature  has  worked  throughout  the 
ages,  but  in  highly  accelerated  tempo,  each  individual,  here  and 
now,  may  begin  to  build  his  own  soil.  Whether  the  individual 
works  with  a  single  flower  pot  or  window  box,  a  few  square  feet 
of  earth  in  a  city  yard,  or  in  a  roomy  garden,  on  orchard  or  farm, 
each  man,  woman,  and  child  can  put  the  earthworm  to  work,  with 
all  the  allied  forces  of  nature  and  cheaply  abundant  materials  at 
hand,  and  begin  to  build  security  for  all  the  tomorrows  of  the 


The  crowding  populations  of  the  earth  stand  on  the  last 
frontier — a  new  frontier.  Circling  the  globe,  they  have  met. 
There  are  no  more  horizons,  marking  the  boundary  of  a  new  and 
better  Promised  Land.  Among  conflicting  ideologies  and  chang- 
ing social  systems,  a  basic  fact  stands  out:  We  cannot  move  east 
or  west,  north  or  south — here  we  stand  and  must  stand. 

At  this  point,  the  reader  may  appropriately  ask  a  few  ques- 
tions: What  is  this  new  frontier,  upon  which  I  am  apparently 
standing?  Where  is  it?  I  am  anxious  to  explore  it,  adapt  my- 
self and  build  security  for  me  and  mine.  And,  incidentally, 
where  do  earthworms  come  into  the  picture? 

Fig.  1.  The  Rainworm, 
Lumbricus  terre&tris. 
Natural  size.  <  Hof- 
meister ) 

Fig.  2.  The 
Brandling,  or 
H elodril  u  s 
foetidus.  Nat- 
u  ral  size 

HUMUS  33 

The  new  frontier  is  literally  beneath  our  feet.  Layer  .by 
layer,  right  down  to  the  bedrock,  the  ancient  remains  of  buried 
continents  lie  sleeping — the  inexhaustible  parent  material  of  new 
and  fertile  virgin  lands  to  be  awakened  and  roused  to  verdant 
life  through  the  knowledge  and  mastery  of  man.  This  new  fron- 
tier is  not  a  figure  of  speech;  it  is  an  actual,  physical  fact — and 
each  individual  can  go  to  work  at  once  upon  his  own  particular 
spot  of  ground,  be  it  small  or  large,  and  have  the  pleasure,  satis- 
f action,  and  profit  of  enjoying  his  own  new  earth  which  he,  him- 
self, has  helped  to  create. 

When  the  struggle  for  the  mastery  of  the  earth — the  actual 
physical  occupation  of  the  earth — is  over,  vast  changes  will  take 
place,  are  already  taking  place.  Among  the  changes  very  defi- 
nitely in  evidence  is  the  movement  of  city  and  urban  populations 
toward  the  land.  Spurred  by  necessity  and  a  universal  awaken- 
ing to  the  importance  of  the  soil,  millions  of  people  are  turning 
towards  the  establishment  of  themselves  upon  the  land,  either  small 
plots  or  more  extensive  acreage,  according  to  their  ability  to  ac- 
quire. They  are  seeking  security  through  the  development  of  a 
subsistence-homestead  as  a  vocation  or  avocation. 

The  wise  man  or  woman  will  not  procrastinate,  but  will  be- 
gin to  plan  how  to  occupy  a  little  piece  of  earth,  or  a  big  piece  of 
earth,  and  learn  how  to  utilize  it  to  the  best  advantage.  It  is  not 
necessary  to  seek  expensive  land,  highly  developed  and  fertile. 
Through  simple  and  easily  mastered  methods  of  soil-building, 
utilizing  earthworms  and  allied  forces  of  nature,  the  land-dweller 
can  build  his  own  good  soil  in  any  quantity  necessary  to  meet  his 

The  Earthworm  in  Nature 

IN  THE  primordial  gases  of  chaos  nature  initiated  her  soil-building 
activities,  to  be  continued  uninterrupted  down  through  the  ages. 
The  primary  parent  material  of  soil  is  stone.  "Soil,"  wrote 
Shaler,  "is  rock  material  on  its  way  toward  the  deep.  In  the 
age-long  weathering  and  disintegration  of  stone,  nature  uses  her 
many  forces — mechanical,  chemical,  and  vital.  Down  from  the 
heights,  the  comminuted  particles  find  their  way,  to  be  deposited 
and  mixed  for  a  spell  with  a  vast  aggregate  of  vegetable  and  ani- 
mal residues  in  the  low-lying  places  of  the  earth,  but  in  the  end 
to  find  their  way  on  flood-borne  waters  to  the  sea. 

The  incalculable  animal  and  vegetable  life  of  the  sea  finds 
its  end  in  death,  to  settle  into  the  depths  with  all  the  debris  from 
earth,  eventually  to  be  compressed  into  sedimentary  rock. 
Through  erosion,  mountains  are  ground  down,  entire  continents 
leveled.  Through  great  seismic  upheavals  and  the  deposition  of 
silt,  continents  once  again  rise  from  the  waters,  to  tower  into 
mountains,  hills  and  plains;  again  to  be  slowly  worn  to  powder 
and  redeposited  in  the  sea. 

Thus,  in  a  never-ending  cycle,  the  surface  of  the  earth 
changes — breaking  up,  becoming  soil,  becoming  vegetable  and  ani- 
mal, becoming  soil  again,  over  and  over ;  and  finally  ending  in  the 
deeps,  to  be  compressed  into  sedimentary  rock  and  once  again, 
through  geological  ages,  to  rise  above  the  surface  and  complete 
the  recurring  cycle. 



Working  through  remote  geological  ages  down  to  the  present 
in  practically  unchanged  form,  the  earthworm  has  been  and  is 
one  of  the  great  integrating,  soil-building  forces  of  nature.  In 
this  movement  of  "rock  material  on  its  way  to  the  deep,"  all  life, 
both  vegetable  and  animal,  has  contributed  to  make  the  subsoil 
and  topsoil  the  great  repository  of  the  physical  elements  of  life — 
oxygen,  nitrogen,  calcium,  phosphorus,  potassium,  sodium,  mag- 
nesium, sulphur,  silicon,  hydrogen,  chlorine,  iron,  with  traces  of 
practically  all  the  known  elements  of  the  universe.  In,  the  build- 
ing of  this  repository,  the  earthworm  has  contributed  a  major 
part,  for  practically  all  of  the  fertile  topsoil  of  earth's  surface 
has  passed  many  times  through  the  bodies  of  earthworms. 

In  the  book  Man  and  the  Earth,  the  noted  Harvard  geologist, 
Nathaniel  Southgate  Shaler,  has  aptly  called  the  thin  layer  of 
humus-bearing  topsoil  "the  placenta  of  life."  Continuing,  Shaler 
warns :  "Man  and  all  forms  of  life  draw  life  from  the  sun,  clouds, 
air,  and  earth  through  a  tenuous  film  of  topsoil,  indispensable 
and,  if  rudely  handled,  impermanent."  In  the  continual  renewal 
and  maintenance  of  this  important  surface  layer  upon  which  life 
depends,  the  earthworm  is  one  of  the  greatest  tools  of  nature. 

Animal  life  in  all  its  forms,  from  microbe  to  man,  is  the 
great  transformer  of  vegetation  into  perfect  earthworm  food,  the 
animal  life  itself,  in  the  end,  becoming  food  for  the  earthworm. 
In  the  process  of  transformation,  a  small  percentage  becomes  ani- 
mal tissue,  but  most  of  it  becomes  food  for  humus-building 
worms.  In  the  feeding  of  100  pounds. of  grain  to  domestic  ani- 
mals, such  as  cattle,  sheep  and  hogs,  on  the  average  89^  pounds 
becomes  excrement,  waste  and  gases,  with  only  10^  pounds  ac- 
counted for  by  increase  in  animal  weight.  Aside  from  the  gaseous 
waste,  the  89^2  pounds  represents  earthworm  food.  In  a  never- 
ending  annual  cycle  untold  millions  of  tons  of  the  products  of 
forest  and  farm,  orchard  and  garden,  rivers,  lakes,  and  oceans, 
are  harvested,  to  be  transformed  into  earthworm  food  after  they 
have  nourished  animal  life  and  served  man.  All  the  biological 
end-products  of  life — kitchen  and  farm  waste,  stubble,  dead  vege- 


tation,  manures,  dead  animal  residues — constitute  the  cheap  and 
ever-renewed  source  of  earthworm  food  for  profitable  soil- 

The  microscopic  life  of  the  earth  and  soil  is  vastly  greater 
than  the  animal  life  which  we  see  on  and  above  the  earth  as 
beasts,  birds  and  man.  In  fertile  farm  land,  where  it  has  been 
handled  by  organic  methods,  we  may  find  as  high  as  7,000  pounds 
of  bacteria  per  acre  in  the  superficial  layer  of  topsoil,  eternally 
gorging  on  the  dead  and  living  vegetable  material,  on  each  other 
and  on  dead  animal  residues — all  producing  earthworm  food,  all 
in  turn  becoming  earthworm  food. 

The  unseen  vegetable  life  of  the  soil — algae,  fungi,  moulds — 
form  an  additional  great  tonnage  of  material  which  eventually 
becomes  earthworm  food.  The  living  network  of  fine  roots,  so 
important  in  holding  the  soil  in  place,  constitutes  about  one-tenth 
by  weight  of  the  total  organic  matter  in  the  upper  six  inches  of 
soil — it  is  all  destined  to  become  earthworm  food.  In  the  good 
black  soils,  the  organic  matter — earthworm  food — is  represented 
by  jrom  140  to  as  high  as  600  tons  of  humus  per  acre.  The  earth- 
worm will  not  go  hungry. 

In  the  accumulation  of  the  great  tonnage  of  humus  as  found 
in  the  good  black  soils,  nature  has  taken  her  time.  In  the  slow 
processes  of  nature,  it  is  estimated  that  from  500  to  1000  years 
are  required  to  lay  down  one  inch  of  topsoil — seldom  so  short  a 
time  as  500  years.  The  source  of  humus,  as  has  been  pointed  out, 
is  mainly  vegetation.  Into  the  structure  of  the  plant,  in  the  exact 
proportions  necessary  to  reproduce  vegetation,  nature  has  com- 
bined the  elements  of  nutrition  for  all  life.  These  elements  are 
derived  both  from  the  earth  and  from  the  air.  Taking  1000 
pounds  of  dry  vegetation  as  a  unit  of  measurment,  on  the  aver- 
age, we  find  upon  analysis  that  it  contains  50  pounds  of  chemicals 
derived  from  the  earth  and  950  pounds  of  chemicals  derived  from 
the  air. 


In  the  process  of  transition  back  to  the  soil,  vegetation  be- 
comes humus.  By  impregnating,  compounding,  and  combining 
humus  with  the  parent  mineral  soil,  nature  slowly  builds  topsoil. 
Just  as  we  have,  from  a  practical  standpoint,  inexhaustible  re- 
sources of  parent  mineral  soil,  we  also  have  practically  inexhaust- 
ible sources  of  vegetable  material  to  draw  upon  for  purposes  of 
soil-building,  sources  which  have  never  heretofore  been  exploited 
for  the  use  of  man. 


The  Earthworm  in  Scientific  Literature 

So  THOROUGHLY  established  and  accepted  is  the  place  and  func- 
tion of  the  earthworm  in  nature  that  soil  scientists,  and  other  sci- 
entific writers  in  general,  give  it  brief  mention  in  a  paragraph, 
or  possibly  one  or  two  pages,  as  the  most  important  animal  agency 
in  soil-building,  and  then  refer  the  reader  to  Charles  Darwin's 
classic  study  as  recorded  in  his  great  book,  The  Formation  of 
Vegetable  Mould  Through  the  Action  of  Earthworms,  with  Ob- 
servations on  Their  Habits. 

Beginning  his  study  of  the  earthworm  during  his  college 
days  prior  to  1837,  Charles  Darwin  collected  his  notes,  made  his 
observations,  and  set  them  down  in  meticulous  and  painstaking 
detail  throughout  his  long  life.  In  1881,  shortly  before  the  death 
of  the  great  naturalist,  the  first  edition  of  his  famous  book  on 
earthworms  appeared.  Thus  in  this  one  instance  we  have  a  com- 
plete and  comprehensive  study  over  a  sufficient  period  of  time  in 
which  to  establish  facts  and  form  conclusions.  To  appreciate 
and  comprehend  fully  the  vast  activity  and  importance  of  earth- 
worms in  nature,  Darwin's  book  on  The  Formation  of  Vegetable 
Mould  should  be  read.  It  is  available  in  practically  all  public  li- 

"Vegetable  mould"  is  the  name  given  by  Darwin  to  the  fer- 
tile layers  of  topsoil.  In  his  introduction,  referring  to  his  studies 
and  observations,  he  states  :  "I  was  thus  led  to  conclude  that  all 
the  vegetable  mould  over  the  whole  country  has  passed  many 



times  through,  and  will  again  pass  many  times  through,  the  in- 
testinal canals  of  worms.  Hence  the  term  'animal  tnould'  would 
be  in  some  respects  more  appropriate  than  that  commonly  used, 
'vegetable  mould/  "  In  a  summing  up  of  Darwin's  conclusions, 
we  cannot  do  better  than  to  quote  from  his  own  summary,  given 
in  the  last  chapter  of  his  book.  We  quote  in  part: 

Worms  have  played  a  more  important  part  in  the  history  of 
the  world  than  most  persons  would  at  first  suppose.  In  almost 
all  humid  countries  they  are  extraordinarily  numerous  and  for 
their  size  possess  great  muscular  power.  In  many  parts  of  Eng- 
land a  weight  of  more  than  .tgnjons  (10,516  kilograms)  of  dry 
earth  jtnnually  passes  througfat  tHeirJbodies  and  is  brought  to  the 
surface  on_each  acre  of  jand;  so  thatthe  whole  superficial  bed  of 
vegetable  mould  passes^  through  their  bodies  in  the  course  of 
every  few  years.  From  the  collapsing  of  the  old  burrows  the 
mould  is  in  constant  though  slow  movement,  and  the  particles 
composing  it  are  thus  rubbed  together.  By  these  means  fresh 
surfaces  are  continually  exposed  to  the  action  of  the  carbonic 
acid  in  the  soil,  and  of  the  humus-acids  which  appear  to  be  still 
more  efficient  in  the  decomposition  of  rocks.  The  generation  of 
the  humus-acids  is  probably  hastened  during  the  digestion  of  the 
many  half-decayed  leaves  which  worms  consume.  Thus,  the  par- 
ticles of  earth  forming  the  superficial  mould  are  subjected  to  con- 
ditions eminently  favourable  to  their  decomposition  and  disin- 
tegration. Moreover,  the  particles  of  the  softer  rocks  suffer  some 
amount  of  mechanical  trituration  in  the  muscular  gizards  of  the 
worms,  in  which  small  stones  serve  as  mill-stones  . . . 

Worms  prepare  the  ground  in  an  excellent  manner  for  the 
growth  of  fibrous-rooted  plants  and  for  seedlings  of  all  kinds. 
They  periodically  expose  the  mould  to  the  air,  and  sift  it  so  that 
no  stones  larger  than  the  particles  which  they  can  swallow  are 
left  in  it.  They  mingle  the  whole  intimately  together,  like  a  gar- 
dener who  prepares  fine  soil  for  his  choicest  plants.  In  this  state 
it  is  well  fitted  to  retain  moisture  and  to  absorb  all  soluble  sub- 
stances, as  well  as  for  the  process  of  nitrification.  The  bones  of 
dead  animals,  the  harder  part  of  insects,  the  shells  of  land  mol- 
luscs, leaves,  twigs,  etc.,  are  before  long  all  buried  beneath  the 
accumulated  castings  of  worms,  and  are  thus  brought  in  a  more 
or  less  decayed  state  within  reach  of  the  roots  of  plants.  Worms 
likewise  drag  an  infinite  number  of  dead  leaves,  and  other  parts 


of  plants  into  their  burrows,  partly  for  the  sake  of  plugging  them 
up  and  partly  as  food. 

The  leaves  which  are  dragged  into  the  burrows  as  food, 
after  being  torn  into  the  finest  shreds,  partially  digested,  and  satu- 
rated with  the  intestinal  and  urinary  secretions  are  commingled 
with  much'  earth.  This  earth  forms  the  dark-coloured,  rich  hu- 
mus which  almost  everywhere  covers  the  surface  of  the  land  with 
a  fairly  well-defined  layer  or  mantle  . . . 

When  we  behold  a  wide,  turf-covered  expanse,  we  should 
remember  that  its  smoothness,  on  which  so  much  of  its  beauty 
depends,  is  mainly  due  to  all  the  inequalities  having  been  slowly 
levelled  by  worms.  It  is  a  marvellous  reflection  that  the  whole 
of  the  superficial  mould  over  any  such  expanse  has  passed,  and 
will  again  pass,  every  few  years  through  the  bodies  of  worms. 
The  plough  is  one  of  the  most  ancient  and  most  valuable  of  man's 
inventions ;  but  long  before  he  existed  the  land  was  in  fact  regu- 
larly ploughed,  and  still  continues  to  be  ploughed,  by  earthworms. 
It  may  be  doubted  whether  there  are  many  other  animals  which 
have  played  so  important  a  part  in  the  history  of  the  world,  as 
have  these  lowly  organized  creatures. 

In  some  of  the  soils  of  England,  Darwin  found  earthworms 
in  concentrations  of  from  25.000  to  53,000  per  acre,  passing 
through  their  bodies  anoBnngmg"  to  the  surface  from  ten  to 
eighteen  tons  of  dry  earth  annually  on  each  acre  of  land.  Later 
investigations  carried  out  by  the  British  Government  in  a  more 
favorable  location  than  England,  showed  jm_ainniial_  volumejof^ 
castings  averaging  more  than  200  tons  per  acre.  Notable  in- 
vestigators from  the  time  of  Darwin  down  to  the  immediate 
present  have  corroborated  his  findings  and  have  also  shown  that 
Darwin  was  extremely  conservative  in  his  claims,  both  as  to  num- 
bers of  earthworms  per  acre  as  well  as  to  the  tonnage  of  castings 
thrown  up. 

Dr.  Firman  E.  Bear,  formerly  professor  of  Soils,  Ohio  State 
University,  in  his  authoritative  book  on  Theory  and  Practice  in 
the  Use  of  Fertilizers,  states :  "In  a  study  of  earthworms  in  the 
soil  on  the  Ohio  State  University  Farm,  it  was  found  that  they 
were  present  in  plots  of  soil  covered  with  bluegrass  in  numbers 
averaging  over  one  million  per  acre.  These  were  concentrated, 


at  the  time  the  numbers  were  estimated  in  July,  in  the  upper  foot 
of  soil." 

In  a  radio  address  delivered  over  WGY  Farm  Forum,  Prof. 

Svend  O.  Heiberg  of  the  New  York  State  College  of  Forestry 

\said:  "If  your  soil  is  suitable  for  earthworms . . .  there  may  be 

I  more  than  two  and  one-half  million  per  acre,  weighing  about 

[1400  pounds.     That  means  that  you  may  have  more  pounds  of 

earthworms  in  your  employment  than  all  your  domestic  animals 

put  together." 

Mr.  Arthur  J.  Mason,  testifying  as  an  expert  before  the 
Committee  on  Flood  Control,  House  of  Representatives,  Seven- 
tieth Congress,  stated:  "The  weight  of  the  angleworms  in  this 
country  is  at  least  tenfold  the  weight  of  the  entire  human  popu- 
lation." Mr.  Mason  estimated  that  the  farm  lands  of  Ilinois, 
his  home  state,  in  normal  circumstances  contain  an  earthworm 
population  of  more  than  six  hundred  billion. 

Hundreds  of  quotations  from  scientific  literature  could  be 
cited,  corroborative  of  the  foregoing,  but  it  is  unnecessary  to  bur- 
den these  pages  with  further  examples. 


Curtis  Fletcher  Marbut,  noted  soil  scientist  and  for  many 
years  Chief  of  the  Soil  Survey  Division  in  the  United  States  De- 
partment of  Agriculture,  expressed  the  belief  that  in  certain  areas 
the  granular  condition  characterizing  whole  layers  of  soil  is  due 
to  earthworm  casts.  We  quote  from  "Soils  and  Men,"  U.  S.  De- 
partment of  Agriculture  Yearbook  for  1938,  page  946 : 

Certain  mulls,  or  granular  mixtures  of  mineral  and  organic 
material  produced  by  earthworms,  give  particular  areas  of  the 
forest  floor  their  whole  character. 

Quoting  further  from  the  same  book  in  the  chapter  on 
"Formation  of  Soil,"  pages  964-965,  we  find : 

Earthworms  feed  on  soft*  and  organic  matter  and  thoroughly 
mix  soils  in  which  they  live.  They  move  and  enrich  many  tons  of 


soil  to  the  acre  each  year,  and  they  thrive  especially  well  in  moder- 
ately acid  to  moderately  alkaline  soils.  One  of  the  many  indica- 
tions of  potentially  productive  soils  is  the  presence  of  well- 
nourished  earthworms. 

From  the  Journal  of  Forestry,  Vol.  37,  No.  1,  we  quote  the 
following  from  the  article  on  "Forest  Soil  in  Relation  to  Silvi- 
culture," by  Svend  O.  Heiberg,  Associate  Professor  of  Silvicul- 
ture, New  York  State  College  of  Forestry.  The  quotation  refers 
to  one  main  type  of  forest  soil,  "mull,"  or  "crumbmull" : 

In  the  mull,  the  organic  matter  is  intimately  mixed  with  the 
upper  few  inches  of  the  mineral  soil.  In  its  best  form  it  is 
crumbly,  friable,  and  porous.  It  resembles  a  well-cultivated  gar- 
den. The  mixing  is  done  by  the  soil  fauna,  especially  by  the 
earthworms  which  continually  dig  and  cultivate  and  eat  both  the 
vegetable  matter  and  the  mineral  soil.  The  excreta  are  placed 
upon  the  soil  surface;  in  fact,  the  entire  humus  layer  of  coarse 
mull  constists  of  earthworm  excreta.  In  good  forest  mull  between 
one  and  two  million  earthworms  are  found  per  acre,  weighing 
about  800  pounds;  their  castings  may  amount  to  15  tons  per  acre 
per  year.  There  is  no  doubt  that  earthworms  are  the  most  bene- 
ficial animals  in  forestry.  The  cultivation  of  the  soil  and  plough- 
ing under  of  manure  which  farmers  and  gardeners  find  to  be  of 
great  importance  for  the  soil  productivity  is  done  "free"  by  the 
earthworms  if  they  are  furnished  with  a  suitable  environment .  .  . 
With  respect  to  productivity,  this  humus  type  (coarse  mull)  is 
undoubtedly  the  highest  and  its  ability  to  absorb  moisture  and 
chus  prevent  surface  run-off  and  erosion  is  high.  One  liter  of 
water  poured  on  a  100  square  centimeters  surface  of  coarse  mull— 
which  corresponds  to  about  four  inches  of  rain — may  be  ab- 
sorbed in  less  than  15  seconds,  while  on  the  same  soil  where  the 
coarse  mull  has  not  developed  it  may  require  two  or  three  hours 
to  seep  in. 

ON      FARM      LAND 

To  show  just  what  the  earthworm  can  accomplish  in  soil- 
building  when  given  a  proper  chance,  we  must  select  a  spot  in  the 
world  where  nature  has  provided  a  favorable  environment,  with 


an  unfailing  supply  of  earthworm  food  in  excessive  abundance, 
properly  composted  with  all  the  chemical  elements  and  organic 
content  required  to  build  rich  topsoil.  Fortunately,  we  have  such 
an  example  in  the  Valley  of  the  Nile,  ancient  "bread-basket"  of 
the  world  and  reputedly  the  most  fertile  soil  on  the  face  of  the 
globe.  Only  in  the  more  densely  populated  areas  of  China  and 
Japan  do  we  find  such  a  concentration  of  human  beings  drawing 
their  nourishment  from  limited  areas  of  soil.  For  more  than  six 
thousand  years  of  recorded  history  the  Valley  of  the  Nile  has 
been  densely  occupied  and  under  continuous  cultivation,  and  this 
without  deterioration  of  the  fertility  of  the  soil.  Here  we  have 
an  object-lesson  in  nature  on  mass-production  of  topsoil  on  a  scale 
of  such  magnitude  as  to  enable  us  to  envision  the  limitless  pos- 
sibilities inherent  in  the  intensive  propagation  and  utilization  of 
earthworms  in  the  controlled  service  of  man.  We  shall  make  a 
brief  descriptive  excursion  to  the  Upper  Valley  of  the  Nile. 


In  United  States  Department  of  Agriculture  Experiment 
Station  Record,  Vol.  27,  No.  6,  we  find  the  following  summary: 

Investigations  carried  on  by  the  British  Government  in  the 
Valley  of  the  White  Nile  in  the  Sudan  indicate  that  the  great 
fertility  of  the  soil  of  this  valley  is  due  in  large  part  to  the  work 
of  earthworms.  Observations  are  recorded  from  which  it  is  esti- 
mated that  the  castings  of  earthworms  on  these  soils  during  the 
six  months  of  active  growing  season  of  the  year  amounts  to 
239,580  pounds  (119.79  tons)  per  acre. 

The  figures  given  in  the  foregoing  quotation  are  almost  un- 
believably amazing  to  anyone  who  has  made  no  study  of  the 
activity  and  volume  of  work  accomplished  by  earthworms.  To 
understand  them,  we  must  examine  the  source  of  the  Blue  Nile 
and  the  facts  in  nature  which  make  such  results  credible. 

The  two  source  rivers  of  the  true  Nile — White  Nile  and 
the  Blue  Nile — form  their  confluence  at  Khartoum,  which  in- 


cidentally  is  the  mathematical  midway  point  of  this  four-thousand- 
mile,  longest  river  in  the  world.  Above  Khartoum,  between  the 
two  converging  rivers,  lies  a  triangular  stretch  of  level  country 
called  the  "Gezira."  Roughly,  the  Gezira  is  250  miles  long,  100 
miles  wide  at  the  base  of  the  triangle  and  narrowing  to  the  point 
where  the-  rivers  unite  to  form  the  Nile.  This  inexhaustibly  fer- 
tile, five-million-acre  tract  of  ancient  farm  land  has  been  slowly 
built  up  through  the  ages  by  the  annual  deposit  of  silt  from  the 
overflow  of  the  Blue  Nile,  its  waters  so  richly  laden  during  the 
flood  season  that  it  is  almost  a  river  of  mud.  The  land  of  the 
Gezira  harbors  an  earthworm  population,  probably  numbered  in 
the  billions,  which  is  responsible  for  the  unexcelled  fertility  of 
the  soil. 

We  must  consider  the  region  from  which  the  Blue  Nile 
gathers  its  flood  waters,  in  order  to  understand  the  composition 
if  its  silt.  At  an  altitude  of  9000  feet,  in  the  rugged  highlands 
of  Abyssinia,  the  Blue  Nile  finds  its  source.  For  nine  months  of 
the  year  this  is  a  hard,  dry  country  of  volcanic  mountains,  abrupt, 
fantastic  peaks,  high  plateaus  six  to  ten  thousand  feet  in  eleva- 
tion— vast,  eroded  slopes,  deep  gullies,  narrow  canyons.  The  river 
dries  up  to  occasional  water  holes.  To  the  north  of  the  river  are 
great  timbered  jungles  which  support  an  unequalled  animal  life, 
including  the  elephant  and  other  herbivora,  as  well  as  the  great 
carnivora  and  lesser  animals  of  all  kinds. 

In  June  of  each  year  comes  the  rainy  season,  beginning  with 
torrential  downpour,  cloudbursts,  terrific  thunder  and  electric 
storms.  The  trickling,  almost  dry  river  wakes  from  its  nine 
months'  rest.  Every  gully,  canyon,  tiny  tributary,  and  dry  wash 
becomes  a  roaring  torrent,  as  the  waters  from  thousands  of  square 
miles  of  highlands  rush  down  to  swell  the  Blue  Nile  into  a  vast 
wall  of  water  fifteen  hundred  feet  wide,  as  it  starts  on  its  course 
to  join  the  White  Nile  at  Khartoum.  In  its  first  fifty  miles  the 
river  drops  4200  feet  through  a  huge  gorge,  and  thirty  miles  be- 
low Lake  Tana  it  encounters  the  great  fall  called  "Tisitat" — 
"roaring  fire." 


Below  the  falls  the  river  is  crowded  into  an  almost  inacces- 
sible gorge,  at  places  5000  feet  deep,  between  whose  precipitous 
walls  it  pursues  its  course  for  500  miles.  This  gorge  is  an  almost 
uninvaded  jungle  paradise  for  animals  and  birds.  The  tempera- 
ture never  falls  below  100  degrees.  The  accumulated  droppings 
of  months  from  millions  of  animals  and  birds,  including  ele- 
phants, hippopotami,  crocodiles,  lions,  leopards,  and  an  aggrega- 
tion of  beasts  great  and  small,  find  their  way  into  the  river  to  add 
to  its  rich  silt.  The  downpour  of  rain  continues  for  nearly  one 
hundred  days,  with  very  little  let-up.  The  rushing,  eroding 
waters  from  the  highlands  gather  vast  quantities  of  volcanic  ash, 
ferruginous  minerals,  feldspar,  hornblende  crystals,  clay,  etc., 
down  the  steep  hillsides  into  the  Blue  Nile,  until  the  river  carries 
17  per  cent  of  silt,  of  which  9  per  cent  is  organic  matter  and  8 
per  cent  mineral  matter. 

A  peculiar  element  which  adds  appreciably  to  the  organic 
richness  of  the  silt  of  the  Blue  Nile  is  billions  of  white  ants,  with 
the  numberless  tons  of  fine  earth  they  have  piled  up  in  their 
ceaseless  workings  during  the  nine  month's  dry  season. 

After  flowing  500  miles  through  the  confines  of  this  great 
canyon,  a  boiling,  mixing  cauldron  of  racing,  silt-laden  waters, 
the  river  bursts  from  the  gorge  into  the  lowland  of  the  Gezira 
and  spreads  over  the  plain  as  overflow.  In  the  Gezira  more  than 
9000  miles  of  irrigation  ditches  help  to  distribute  the  flood 
waters  uniformly  over  the  earth. 

It  is  thus  that  the  vast  annual  feast  of  organic  and  inorganic 
material,  perfectly  mixed  and  composted,  is  spread  for  the  worms 
of  the  Gezira.  Beneath  the  dry  surface  of  the  earth  the  innu- 
merable earthworm  population  has  awaited  the  coming  of  the 
rains.  The  earth  has  been  riddled  with  billions  of  tunnels  to  a 
depth  of  several  feet,  making  it  one  vast  honey-combed  sub- 
surface, ready  to  receive  and  store  the  waters  when  they  come. 
As  the  flood-water  spreads,  the  thirsty  earth  absorbs  it  quickly 
like  a  sponge,  leaving  its  deposit  of  silt.  The  earthworms  begin 
their  work  and  almost  over  night  the  silt  is  carried  through  the 


worms,  digested,  homogenized  and  excreted  as  rich,  fine  humus- 
laden  topsoil,  loaded  with  immediately  available,  water-soluble 
plant  nutrients.  Here  no  human  cultivation  is  required.  The 
ground  is  seeded  and  the  next  operation  is  the  harvest — the  earth- 
worms do  the  cultivating. 

Age  after  age,  for  thousands  of  years,  this  process  has  been 
repeated.  In  this  favorable  environment  nature  composts  food  in 
abundance,  the  earthworms  devour  it,  digest  it,  and  excrete  humus 
for  the  growth  of  vegetation  in  an  endless  cycle.  We  are  thus 
given  an  outstanding  example  of  mass-production  of  topsoil  in 
nature  by  the  earthworms  of  the  Nile  Valley,  rightly  termed  a 
soil  of  inexhaustible  fertility. 

In  this  recorded  observation,  the  castings  were  estimated  for 
a  period  of  six  months  only,  totaling  for  this  time  slightly  less 
than  120  tons  per  acre.  Based  on  comprehensive  knowledge  of 
the  earthworm  and  his  work,  a  conservative  estimate  for  the  en- 
tire year  in  the  area  under  consideration  would  place  the  total 
probable  annual  output  of  castings  at  more  than  200  tons  per  acre. 


While  engaged  in  research  and  experiments  over  a  number 
of  years,  we  examined  many  reports  carried  in  scientific  litera- 
ture, covering  a  period  of  nearly  one  hundred  years,  from  before 
the  time  of  Darwin  down  to  the  immediate  present.  The  evi- 
dence, showing  vastly  increased  productivity  of  soil  that  is  well 
populated  with  earthworms,  or  entirely  produced  by  earthworms, 
is  fully  conclusive.  In  fact,  the  evidence  shows  an  overwhelm- 
ing superiority  of  earthworm  soil  over  other  fertile  soils.  Among 
the  many  reasons  that  account  for  the  fertility  of  earthworm  cast- 
ings, probably  the  most  outstanding  is  the  fact  that  in  its  passage 
through  the  earthworm  the  soil  undergoes  a  chemical  change 
through  which  the  nutritional  elements  for  plant  growth  are  ren- 
dered water-soluble  to  a  much  more  highly  marked  degree  than 
is  found  in  soil  which  has  not  been  subjected  to  the  influence  of 


The  well-known  fertility  of  the  Nile  Valley  is  an  example — 
a  two  thousand-mile  stretch  of  land  which  is  literally  one  vast  bed 
of  earthworm  soil,  ideally  qomposted  and  laid  down,  layer  by 
layer,  and  subjected  to  the  digestion  of  earthworms  in  a  favor- 
able environment.  While  we  have  given  the  Valley  of  the  Nile 
as  an  example,  all  the  fertile  river  valleys  and  bottom  lands  of 
the  earth  could  be  cited  with  equal  truth  as  illustrations  of  the 
important  work  of  earthworms  in  the  building  of  topsoil.  Many 
plant  growth  experiments  have  been  carried  out  in  verification  of 
the  claims  made  for  earthworm  castings  and  soil  that  has  been 
worked  over  by  earthworms.  Further  on  in  this  book  we  shall 
give  other  reports,  but  it  is  appropriate  at  this  point  in  the  dis- 
cussion to  cite  a  few. 

In  the  book  Soils:  Their  Formation,  Properties,  Composition 
and  Relations  to  Climate  and  Plant  Growth,  by  E.  W.  Hilgard 
(Ph.D.,  L.L.D.,  one  time  Professor  of  Agriculture  in  the  Univer- 
sity of  California  and  formerly  Director  of  the  California  Ex- 
periment Station)  we  find  in  part*: 

Wolney  has  shown  by  direct  experimental  cultures  in  boxes,, 
with  and  without  earthworms,  surprising  differences  between  the 
cultural  results  obtained,  and  this  has  been  fully  confirmed  by 
the  subsequent  researches  of  Djemil.  In  Wolney 's  experiments, 
the  ratio  of  higher  production  in  the  presence  of  worms  varied 
all  the  way  from  2.  6  percent  in  the  case  of  oats,  63.9  percent  in 
that  of  rye,  135.9  percent  in  that  of  potatoes,  140  percent  in 
vetch,  and  300  percent  in  that  of  the  field  pea,  to  733  percent  in 
the  case  of  rape. 

From  among  many  reports  received  from  practical  earth- 
worm culturists,  we  will  give  part  of  a  letter  from  a  Georgia 
farmer,  Mr.  R.  A.  Caldwell ;  we  quote : 

I  have  planted  Moss  Rose  in  experimental  pots,  same  age  and 
condition,  one  pot  with  worms,  one  without:  invariably,  the  one 
with  the  worms  will  take  on  new  zest  and  life,  and  I  have  hacl 

*Pages  158-159 


them  make  such  wonderful  growth  as  16  to  1.  I  have  also  grown 
petunias  in  boxes,  in  such  size  and  profusion  as  to  be  unbelievable 
to  one  who  never  had  a  demonstration  of  the  earthworm's  fertiliz- 
ing and  cultivating  ability.  Petunias  in  soil  of  identical  fertility, 
with  the  aid  of  hundreds  of  earthworms  burrowing  about  their 
roots,  produced  leaves  1^  to  1J4  inches  wide  by  3  inches  long, 
while  those  in  the  boxes  without  worms  were  yet  j£  inch  wide 
by  1  to  \%  inches  long;  and  the  worm- fertilized  plants  were 
several  times  as  tall  as  the  others. 

In  a  full-column  article  entitled  "Earthworms  in  Role  of 
Great  Benefactors  of  the  Human  Race,"  Mr.  W.  A.  Anderson, 
Editor  of  the  S*outh  Pasadena  Review,  reported  a  number  of 
growth  experiments  by  the  author.*  One  of  the  experiments  re- 
ported on  was  this:  We  planted  three  boxes  of  lawn  grass  (poa 
trivialis}.  One  box  of  good  native  soil  as  control;  one  box  of 
identical  soil,  but  with  earthworms  added ;  one  box  of  pure  earth- 
worm castings.  After  germination  and  sixty  days'  growth,  the 
grass  was  harvested  and  the  results  carefully  compared.  All 
boxes  produced  good  crops  of  grass.  The  box  of  native  soil,  with 
earthworms  added,  yielded  271  percent  more  than  the  control  box 
without  worms.  The  box  of  earthworm  castings  yielded  463  per- 
cent more  than  the  control  box  without  earthworms. 

While  we  could  give  an  endless  array  of  reports  similar  to 
the  above,  we  feel  that  the  foregoing  is  amply  sufficient  to  call 
attention  to  the  fact  that  the  earthworms  not  only  produce  a  great 
volume  of  topsoil,  but  they  produce  soil  of  unsurpassed  fertility. 


On  the  subject  of  plant  food  in  subsoil,  we  quote  from  Pro- 
ductive Soils:  The  Fundamentals  of  Successful  S<oil  Management 
and  Profitable  Crop  Management^,  by  Wilbur  Walter  Weir 

'South  Pasadena  (California)   Reriew,  April  12,  1940. 
fPages  71  and  72 

Dr.  George  Sheffield  Oliver,  with  a  cluster   of  ripe  "carob" 
against  the  background. 


(B.S.[A],  M.S.,  Ph.D.,  Forest  Ecologist,  Branch  of  Research, 
Forest  Service,  U.  S.  Dept.  of  Agriculture;  one  time  Soil  Tech- 
nologist, Bureau  of  Chemistry  and  Soils,  University  of  Wiscon- 
sin) : 

Subsoils  contain  plant  food  elements.  It  is  important  to  bear 
in  mind  that  subsoils  also  contain  the  important  elements.  In 
general,  the  surface  soil  contains  more  rUrogen  than  the  sub- 
soil, owing  to  the  presence  of  more  organic  matter.  Some  deep, 
black  soils  may  have  as  high  percentage  of  nitrogen  in  the  sub- 
soil (to  a  limited  depth)  as  is  contained  in  the  surface  stratum. 

The  percentage  of  phosphorus  in  the  surface  layer  is  com- 
monly greater  than  or  equal  to  that  contained  in  the  subsoil. 
There  is  often  a  close  relationship  between  the  phosphorus  and 
the  amount  of  organic  matter  in  mineral  soils.  This  accounts  for 
the  higher  phosphorus  content  of  the  upper  strata.  .  .  On  ex- 
haustive cropping,  the  higher  content  of  the  surface  soil  is  gradu- 
ally reduced;  until  it  equals  at  least  the  percentage  contained  in 
fhe  subsoil. 

The  potassium  content  is  usually  greater  in  the  subsoils, 
especially  when  they  are  fine-textured.  More  potassium  is  found 
in  subsoils  of  humid  climates  because  of  the  presence  of  more 
fine  particles,  which  are  not  only  richer  in  potassium  than  the 
coarser  surface  particles,  but  which  absorb  much  more  of  the 
potassium  leached  down  from  the  surface  stratum. 

In  arid  and  semi-arid  soils,  the  phosphorus  and  potassium 
content  of  the  surface  soil  is  very  much  the  same  as  that  of  the 

From  the  foregoing  quotation,  it  is  readily  appreciated  what 
a  great  change  may  be  made  in  the  surface  soil  by  the  transloca- 
tion  of  the  subsoil  to  the  top  layers  through  the  action  of  earth- 
worms, especially  when  they  are  present  in  large  numbers.  The 
further  importance  of  this  soil  movement  from  the  depths  to  the 
top  will  be  more  fully  understood  in  the  light  of  the  chemical 
changes  the  soil  undergoes  in  its  passage  through  the  earthworm, 
which  render  it  immediately  available  for  the  growing  of  crops. 

Every  farmer  and  student  of  the  soil  knows  that  he  cannot 
mix  his  topsoil  with  any  great  quantity  of  subsoil,  without  se- 


riously  reducing  the  fertility  of  the  topsoil  for  immediate  crop- 
ping. When  subsoils  are  brought  to  the  surface,  especially  from 
depths  ranging  from  eighteen  inches  to  two  feet  downward,  they 
should  be  "weathered"  for  months  and  mixed  sparingly  into  the 
topsoil  before  they  become  fully  available  for  best  results.  How- 
ever, in  the  translocation  of  the  subsoil  by  earthworms,  the  neces- 
sity for  leaving  the  land  fallow  for  months  of  weathering  is 
avoided.  The  soil  undergoes  the  necessary  changes  in  the  ali- 
mentary canals  of  the  earthworms,  preparing  it,  as  has  been 
stated,  for  immediate  use. 

The  earthworms  do  not  simply  swallow  the  subsoil,  bring  it 
to  the  surface  and  deposit  it.  It  is  thoroughly  mixed  with  the 
surface  topsoil,  so  that  the  whole  becomes  one  uniform,  homo- 
genized layer.  To  determine,  as  well  as  to  illustrate,  the  mixing 
action  of  earthworms,  we  prepared  a  culture  box  of  carefully 
stratified  layers  of  materials.  Layers  of  granulated  peat  moss, 
mixed  horse  manure,  rabbit  manure,  and  chicken  manure,  with 
layers  of  good  topsoil,  were  alternated.  We  then  added  several 
hundred  earthworms  on  top  of  the  stratified  compost,  allowing 
them  to  burrow  down  into  the  mix.  After  four  months,  we 
dumped  the  box  for  examination.  We  found  no  sign  of  stratifica- 
tion, the  entire  contents  of  the  box  having  been  converted  into 
one  homogenized  mixture  of  fine,  crumbly  soil. 

In  our  lath  house,  where  we  had  established  our  experi- 
mental culture  beds,  great  numbers  of  earthworms  had  burrowed 
into  the  earth  from  the  culture  boxes  and  other  beds.  We  were 
using  an  old  cement  mixing  box  for  compost  mixing.  This  box 
is  about  five  feet  long,  thirty  inches  wide  and  twelve  inches  deep, 
with  a  galvanized  iron  bottom  that  had  finally  rusted  into  many 
holes.  This  box  had  been  filled  with  rabbit  manure  and  thor- 
oughly wet  down,  preparatory  to  mixing  the  earthworm  compost. 
However,  we  had  neglected  the  task  of  mixing  compost  for  a 
period  of  several  weeks.  Upon  examination  of  the  manure,  we 
found  that  many  earthworms  had  moved  into  the  box  from  the 
damp  earth  beneath  it  and  were  producing  many  egg-capsules. 


We  decided  to  leave  the  box  and  observe  results,  meantime  cover- 
ing it  for  protection  against  the  summer  sun  and  keeping  the 
contents  moist.  The  contents  of  the  box  soon  lost  its  identity 
as  manure  and  after  a  few  months,  was  found  to  have  been  com- 
pletely converted  into  fine,  dark,  crumbly  earth.  We  used  this 
earthworm  soil  for  a  Victory  Garden,  grown  in  lugboxes,  which 
supplied  our  table  with  lettuce,  radishes,  young  onions,  beets, 
and  other  greens  of  unusual  excellence  from  early  spring  until 
late  in  the  fall.  In  this  instance,  the  worms  brought  up  consider- 
able quantities  of  the  subsoil  from  beneath  the  old  cement  box 
and  thoroughly  mixed  and  combined  it  with  rabbit  manure, 
providing  us  with  highly  fertile  and  productive  earth  for  our 
lugbox  garden. 

In  the  Record  of  the  U.  S.  Dept.  of  Agriculture  Experi- 
ment Station,  Vol  XVII,  No.  8*,  we  find  the  following  sum- 
mary of  an  experiment  by  A.  Murinov : 

Alternate  layers  of  different  kinds  of  soil  were  placed  in 
zinc  boxes  with  one  glass  side,  earthworms  were  added,  the  soil 
kept  in  a  proper  state  of  moisture,  and  the  changes  which  the 
soil  underwent  determined  by  analyses  at  the  beginning  and  end 
of  the  experiments,  which  lasted  one  year.  A  check  series  of 
boxes  were  treated  in  the  same  manner,  except  that  earthworms 
were  not  added. 

The  results  show  that  in  the  soils  to  which  the  earthworms 
were  added  the  phosphoric  acid  soluble  in  10  per  cent  hydro- 
chloric acid  increased  in  all  cases.  The  lime  content,  which  at 
the  beginning  was  greatest  in  the  surface  soils,  was  found  at 
the  end  of  the  experiments  to  gradually  increase  from  the  sur- 
face toward  the  subsoils.  The  nitrogen  was  more  uniformly 
distributed  throughout  the  soil  at  the  end  of  the  experiment  than 
at  the  beginning. 

In  considering  soil  that  has  been  worked  over  by  earthworms 
and  mixed  with  earthworm  castings,  attention  should  be  called  to 
the  fact  that  the  major  plant- food  elements — nitrogen,  phos- 

*Page  744 


phorus  and  potassium  —  as  well  as  the  minor  elements  are 
intimately  mixed  and  compounded  with  a  high  percentage  of  or- 
ganic material,  all  in  a  finely  divided  state,  which  exposes  many 
surfaces  to  the  bacterial  action  so  important  in  the  topsoil.  The 
earthworms  "sweeten"  the  soil,  as  the  castings  are  rich  in  cal- 
cium carbonate  that  has  been  secreted  from  the  blood  of  the 
earthworm  in  the  metabolic  processes  and  is  then  excreted  in 
the  castings. 

Of  particular  note  is  the  highly  important  fact  that  earth- 
worm castings  are  very  rich  in  nitrogen  and  may  contain  three 
times  as  much  nitrogen  as  is  found  in  the  soil  in  which  the  worms 
work.  This  point  is  brought  out  by  Horace  Edward  Stock- 
bridge  (Ph.D.,  Florida  Agricultural  College)  in  his  book  Rocks 
and  Soils:  Their  Origin,  Composition  and  Characteristics.  In 
discussing  earthworm  castings,  he  says : 

. . .  The  amount  of  organic  matter  thus  directly  or  indirectly 
added  to  the  soil  may  be  inferred  from  the  fact  that  Darwin 
estimates  that  the  material  annually  brought  to  the  surface  by 
worms  is  two-tenths  of  an  inch  per  acre ;  equivalent  to  an  average 
of  10.59  tons  of  each  acre  inhabited  by  worms. . . 

Darwin  states  the  ammonia  content  of  worm  castings  to 
be  0.018  per  cent,  while  the  average  ammonia  present  in  com- 
mon surface  soils,  as  determined  by  Knop  and  Wolff,  is  only 
0.00056  per  cent.  It  therefore  appears  that  the  action  of  the 
worms  has  increased  the  ammonia  content  of  the  soil  acted  upon 
more  than  threefold  (321  per  cent). 

When  given  in  the  number  of  pounds  per  acre  represented 
by  0.018  per  cent  of  10.59  tons,  the  amount  of  dry  material 
which  Darwin  estimated  annually  passed  through  the  earth- 
worms of  England  per  acre,  the  yearly  accession  of  ammonia 
per  acre  is  equivalent  to  381.24  pounds.  Ammonia  is  but  one, 
and  perhaps  not  the  most  important,  of  the  constituents  made 
available  in  the  topsoil  by  the  life- functions  of  earthworms. 
Quoting  further  from  Dr.  Stockbridge,  "This,  be  it  borne  in 
mind,  is  but  a  change  wrought  in  one  year  and  capable  of  yearly 


repetition.  And,  moreover,  the  entire  mass  of  mould  on  every 
field  passes  in  the  course  of  a  few  years  through  their  alimentary 

In  considering  the  significance  of  the  above  quotations  and 
comments,  we  will  point  out  that  in  the  example  we  have  given 
of  the  action  of  the  earthworms  in  the  Anglo-Egyptian  Sudan, 
the  accession  of  ammonia  to  the  topsoil  would  be  an  almost  un- 
believable amount.  We  can  only  surmise  at  this  point  that  the 
accession  of  other  plant  food  elements  to  the  topsoil  is  propor- 
tional to  the  gain  in  nitrogen  derived  from  ammonia. 

The  constant  translocation  of  the  plant  food  minerals  from 
the  subsoil  to  the  surface  zones,  the  thorough  and  ceaseless  mix- 
ing of  these  elements  with  the  soil,  making  it  a  finely  conditioned, 
evenly  balanced  soil  without  the  necessity  for  long  weathering, 
is  just  part  of  the  important  work  oS  worms.  Without  quoting 
long  references  and  details,  let  us  summarize  in  part  the  v/ork 
of  earthworms  in  nature,  with  some  related  points,  before  pass- 
ing on  to  the  second  part  of  the  book,  which  deals  with  the  con- 
trolled activity  of  earthworms. 


Earthworms  are  found  in  nature,  ranging  from  a  sparse 
population  of  a  few  thousand  per  acre  to  several  millions  per 
acre  in  favorable  environment.  They  are  distributed  prac- 
tically all  over  the  globe. 

While  earthworms  inhabit  the  surface  layers  of  soil,  de- 
riving nutrition  from  the  organic  content  of  the  soil,  but  swal- 
lowing the  soil  with  all  that  it  contains,  they  commonly  burrow 
deep  into  the  earth,  riddling  and  honeycombing  the  earth  to  a 
depth  of  several  feet.  They  come  to  the  top  to  deposit  their 
castings  on  top  of  the  earth  and  in  the  loose  surface  layers, 
bringing  the  subsoil  to  the  top  and  mixing  it  with  the  surface 
soil.  In  its  passage  through  the  worm,  the  mineral  subsoil  under- 
goes chemical  changes,  making  it  immediately  available  for  plant 


nutrition.  The  aerating  tunnels  have  the  important  function  of 
greatly  increasing  the  air  capacity  of  the  soil.  In  some  cases 
the  air  capacity  is  increased  as  much  as  60  to  75  per  cent. 

Water  penetration  is  improved  where  there  is  adequate  earth- 
worm population.  Plow  sole  is  eliminated.  The  rainfall  is 
quickly  absorbed,  instead  of  running  off  or  standing  on  the  sur- 

Wormcasts  in  acid  soil  are  much  less  acid  than  the  soil  from 
which  they  are  derived,  the  reduction  in  acidity  in  some  instances 
amounting  to  as  much  as  75  per  cent.  In  large  numbers,  the 
earthworms  produce  a  topsoil  that  is  practically  a  neutral  humus. 
Also,  earthworms  reduce  the  alkalinity  of  the  soil,  so  that  alkaline 
soils  are  rendered  less  alkaline,  while  acid  soils  are  rendered  less 

Wormcasts  commonly  contain  a  high  percentage  of  car- 
bonates as  well  as  a  high  percentage  of  nitrogen. 

Earthworms  increase  the  organic  content  of  the  surface  soils 
by  concentrating  the  organic  content  of  the  soil  in  the  top  layers. 
Colloid  humus  is  increased  in  the  topsoil. 

Bacterial  multiplication  and  functioning  are  favored  by  the 
action  of  earthworms.  Where  there  are  numerous  earthworms, 
the  soil  also  has  a  greatly  increased  number  of  soil  bacteria,  espe- 
cially those  concerned  in  the  decomposition  of  cellulose.  Decom- 
position of  vegetable  matter  is  much  more  rapid  under  the 
influence  of  earthworms. 

Earthworms  continually  restore  the  plant  food  elements  to 
the  surface  soils  from  the  subsoils,  thus  overcoming  the  effects 
of  leaching.  Through  the  action  of  the  earthworms,  the  poten- 
tial fertility  of  the  soil  is  rendered  available  by  the  fact  that  in 
the  digestive  processes  of  the  earthworm  the  elements  of  plant 
nutrition  are  made  water-soluble. 

Earthworm  castings  have  much  greater  productive  value  for 
plant  growth  than  other  soil,  due  to  the  fact  that  the  nutritional 
elements  have  been  concentrated  in  the  castings  in  water-soluble 
form  and  in  a  more  balanced  condition.  It  is  very  much  like 


feeding  an  animal  with  a  well-balanced  food  ration,  which  is  the 
ideal  ration.  The  same  applies  to  plant  nutrition. 

Resistance  to  pests  and  plant  diseases  is  increased  by  action 
of  earthworms,  doubtless  due  to  the  production  of  a  more 
balanced  soil  without  deficiencies  such  as  are  found  in  soils  de- 
pendent on  chemical  fertilization.  Another  important  observa- 
tion we  have  made,  confirmed  by  numerous  reports  from  earth- 
worm culturists,  is  that  fruit  trees  which  have  never  borne  fruit 
become  productive  after  earthworms  have  been  established  around 
them.  Undetermined  deficiencies  in  the  soil  have  evidently  been 
remedied  by  the  addition  of  earthworms,  resulting  in  unproductive 
trees  becoming  fruitful. 

In  the  second  part  of  this  book,  many  of  the  above  points 
will  be  emphasized. 


Can  It  Be  Done? 

IN  THE  foregoing  pages  we  have  discussed  the  earthworm  in 
nature  and  shown  something  of  its  value  in  the  soil.  We  have 
shown  earthworms  working  in  the  soils  of  England  in  concen- 
trations of  from  25,000  to  53,000  per  acre  or  more ;  and  in  the 
soils  of  the  United  States  in  concentrations  of  from  250,000  to 
upwards  of  2,000,000  per  acre.  We  have  shown  earthworms  in 
England  in  an  annual  production  of  ten  tons  of  castings  per  acre, 
while  in  the  more  favorable  environment  of  the  Upper  Nile 
Valley  we  have  reported  on  the  annual  production  of  more  than 
two  hundred  tons  of  castings  per  acre. 

The  value  of  the  earthworm  in  nature  has  been  established 
beyond  question.  However,  talking  and  writing  about  the  value 
of  earthworms  in  nature  without  doing  anything  about  it  is  ex- 
actly like  the  academic  discussion  of  water  power  in  nature, 
without  ever  a  thought  or  effort  to  utilize  it  in  the  service  of 
man.  The  positive  and  unqualified  answer  to  the  question  "Can 
it  be  done?"  is  "Yes — it  has  been  done." 

One  million  earthworms  per  acre  in  good  native  soil  is  con- 
sidered a  very  numerous  natural  population.  Such  a  population 
represents  approximately  ten  worms  per  cubic  foot  of  soil, 
figuring  an  average  working  depth  of  thirty  inches. 

In  the  intensive  propagation  and  use  of  domesticated  earth- 
worms, we  have  put  them  to  work  in  controlled  soil-building 
operations  in  concentrations  of  three  thousand  or  more  per  cubic 


CAN    IT    BE    DONE?  57 

foot  of  composted  parent  material.  In  round  numbers,  such  a 
concentration  means  one  hundred  and  thirty  million  worms 
per  acre  foot.  The  fact  which  makes  such  high  concen- 
trations possible  is  that  the  number  of  earthworms  in  a  given 
environmental  space  is  limited  only  by  the  amount  of  avail- 
able food  present.  Lest  the  reader  at  this  point  be  misled  into 
thinking  that  three  thousand  earthworms  could  survive  and 
work  in  a  cubic  foot  of  native  soil,  we  hasten  to  state  that  in 
intensive  propagation  we  provide  the  necessary  concentrated  nu- 
tritional material  for  the  worms  to  work  with  in  special  culture 
beds  or  compost  heaps. 

We  have  gone  to  the  greatest  of  all  teachers — Mother  Na- 
ture— for  an  example  of  "mass-production"  of  earthworm  top- 
soil  in  the  Nile  Valley,  showing  that  it  can  be  done.  Not  only 
does  nature  show  that  it  can  be  done,  but  she  shows  how  to  do  it. 
Making  practical  application  of  the  lessons  of  nature,  in  the  in- 
tensive propagation  and  use  of  domesticated  earthworms  we 
create  a  favorable  environment,  provide  the  abundant-soil-building 
food  of  worms  which  is  cheaply  available  practically  everywhere, 
and  the  example  of  nature  is  duplicated  in  proportion  to  the 
amount  of  material  and  number  of  worms  involved. 

We  now  pass  to  the  second  part  of  the  book,  which  deals 
more  particularly  with  earthworms  under  controlled  propagation 
and  use. 


The  Earthworm  Under  Control 

A  New  Concept 

IN  THE  following  chapters  we  deal  with  the  intensive  propaga- 
tion and  use  of  earthworms  under  controlled  environment.  As 
has  been  stated,  the  one  fact  which  makes  it  possible  to  utilize 
the  earthworm  in  mass-production  of  humus-laden  topsoil  is  that 
the  number  of  earthworms  in  a  given  environment  is  limited  only 
by  the  amount  of  available  food  present. 

There  are  two  objectives  to  be  held  in  mind:  The  first  is  the 
most  effective  and  economical  utilization  of  all  possible  organic 
material,  such  as  every  form  of  vegetation,  all  animal  manures, 
garbage,  garden,  orchard,  and  farm  waste,  and  litter  of  all  kinds; 
in  fact,  what  we  have  termed  the  biological  end-products  of  life 
as  opposed  to  purely  chemical  end-products  and  strictly  chemical 
fertilizers.  The  second  objective  is  to  establish  the  greatest  pos- 
sible earthworm  population  in  the  soil,  using  methods  of  tillage 
and  organic  fertilization  that  will  favor  the  maintenance  of  earth- 
worms in  the  soil,  as  well  as  the  bacterial  population  that  is  con- 
cerned in  soil-building  and  maintenance  of  the  highest  state  of 
fertility  in  a  permanent  agriculture. 

In  propagating  earthworms  intensively  in  special  culture 
beds,  we  use  them  very  much  as  we  use  bacterial  cultures,  breed- 
ing them  in  high  concentrations  by  furnishing  adequate  food  ma- 
terial to  support  vast  numbers  in  a  limited  area.  Fertile  farm 
and  garden  soil,  properly  handled  through  organic  methods,  will 
easily  support  from  one  to  two  million  or  more  earthworms  per 



acre- foot.  Such  a  population  will  provide  ideal  aeration  and  air 
capacity  for  the  soil,  with  good  drainage,  rapid  water  penetra- 
tion and  maximum  moisture-holding  capacity.  At  the  same  time, 
such  an  earthworm  population  provides  a  soil  turnover  and  con- 
ditioning of  upwards  of  two  hundred  tons  of  material  annually, 
mixed  and  prepared  in  the  humus  mill  of  the  earthworm  and 
delivered  to  the  root-zone  of  vegetation  comprised  in  the  im- 
mediate six  to  eighteen  inches  of  surface  soil.  In  special  culture 
beds,  we  commonly  propagate  earthworms  in  concentrations  of 
upwards  of  three  thousand  worms  per  cubic  foot  of  material, 
which  means,  in  round  numbers,  one  hundred  and  thirty  million 
worms  per  acre-foot. 

With  the  above  figures  and  objectives  in  mind,  it  is  possible 
to  begin  to  visualize  the  possibilities  of  soil-building,  whether  it 
be  for  a  single  flower  pot,  a  window  box  of  flowers,  a  small  city 
yard  or  garden,  or  more  extensive  acreage  in  large  gardens,  nur- 
series, orchards,  or  farms. 

We  ordinarily  think  of  earthworms  as  small,  wriggling,  in- 
significant, repugnant  creatures.  To  appreciate  properly  the  pos- 
sibilities inherent  in  the  intensive  propagation  and  use  of  worms 
in  soil-building,  we  should  gain  a  new  and  different  concept, 
thinking  of  them  in  units  of  hundreds,  thousands,  or  even  mil- 
lions, instead  of  thinking  in  terms  of  separate,  tiny,  individual 
worms.  For  purposes  of  illustration,  suppose  we  ask,  "How 
many  are  a  million  earthworms?"  and  use  our  imagination  in 
answering  the  question. 

Mentally,  we  shall  combine  one  million  earthworms  into  a 
single,  composite  animal  and  place  this  animal  on  an  acre  of 
ground,  with  a  year's  ration  of  fertile  topsoil  piled  up  around  it 
in  symmetrical  piles  for  its  daily  consumption.  We  shall  then 
have  a  monster  animal,  weighing  more  than  2000  pounds,  with 
365  piles  of  soil  before  it.  Each  pile  will  contain  approximately 
one  cubic  yard  of  earth,  weighing  upwards  of  2000  pounds.  Each 
pile  will  represent  the  daily  ration  of  this  fantastic,  dirt-eating 
animal,  that  will  swallow  its  own  weight  or  more  of  earth  each 

A    NEW    CONCEPT  63 

day  of  the  year.  Such  will  be  our  composite  animal,  mentally 
integrated  from  one  million  earthworms.  Now  let  us  check  with 
the  facts,  as  they  have  been  established  by  careful  experiment. 

We  have  weighed  many  of  the  earthworms  which  we  propa- 
gated during  our  research.  On  the  average,  they  run  about  500 
to  the  pound,  or  about  31  worms  per  ounce.  The  fully  mature 
worm,  in  good  condition,  averages  four  inches  in  length.  Thus 
we  find  that  one  million  of  them  would  weigh  2000  pounds.  If 
placed  end  to  end,  they  would  make  a  continuous  line  over  6% 
miles  long.  An  individual  worm,  eating  its  way  through  the 
soil,  will  swallow  its  own  weight  of  earth  daily,  in  order  to  ab- 
sorb from  the  soil  the  infinitesimal  amount  of  nutrition  required 
to  keep  a  worm  in  good  condition.  When  we  analyze  and  care- 
fully study  these  figures,  we  begin  to  gain  a  concept  of  the  tre- 
mendous soil-building  force  which  is  at  work  in  the  earth  when 
it  is  populated  by  one  million  earthworms  per  acre.  The  earth- 
worm is  just  as  truly  an  air-breathing,  manure-producing  animal 
as  a  horse,  cow,  or  other  domestic  animal.  The  difference  is 
that  earthworms  work  unseen  and  their  manure  is  so  thoroughly 
combined  with  the  soil  that  it  cannot  be  separated.  In  fact,  as 
has  been  pointed  out,  the  manure  of  the  earthworm  is  finely  con- 
ditioned soil. 

At  first  thought,  when  it  is  stated  than  an  earthworm  will 
ingest  its  own  weight  in  soil  each  twenty-four  hours,  this  amount 
seems  almost  unbelievable.  However,  when  the  eating  and  ex- 
cretory activities  of  the  chicken  are  compared  with  those  of  the 
earthworm,  a  ration  of  topsoil  equal  to  the  weight  of  the  earth- 
worm each  day  seems  a  very  reasonable  amount.  On  the  average, 
a  mature  hen  will  drop  seventy-five  pounds  of  manure  each  year. 
Chickens  utilize  only  about  ten  per  cent  of  the  nutritional  value 
of  the  food  they  eat,  the  balance  going  out  in  their  droppings. 
Thus  they  have  to  gorge  many  hours  each  day  in  order  to  pro- 
duce eggs  in  commercially  profitable  numbers.  Suppose  that  a 
laying  hen  had  to  swallow  enough  earth  daily  to  secure  the 
amount  of  organic  food  necessary  to  keep  her  in  good  laying  con- 


dition,  instead  of  feeding  on  concentrated  grains  and  mashes. 
To  do  this,  she  would  have  to  consume  several  times  her  own 
weight  of  earth  each  day,  assuming  that  her  digestive  organs  were 
similar  to  those  of  the  earthworm.  Yet  that  is  exactly  what  the 
earthworm  has  to  do.  The  earthworm  lives  on  the  organic  con- 
tent of  the  soil,  which  it  swallows  with  all  that  is  contained 
therein.  The  earthworm  is  so  constructed  as  to  be  able  to  digest 
this  material,  thus  gaining  the  small  amount  of  food  necessary 
for  nutrition.  Only  because  it  is  perhaps  the  most  perfect 
digestive  organism  known  to  the  animal  world  is  the  earthworm 
able  to  absorb  enough  food  from  an  amount  of  earth  equal  to 
its  own  weight  to  maintain  it  in  a  fat  and  active  condition.  Thus, 
the  statement  that  the  earthworm  swallows  its  own  weight  of 
earth  daily  appears,  on  examination,  perfectly  reasonable  and 

We  again  repeat:  Think  of  earthworms  in  large  units  of 
hundreds,  thousands,  millions;  for  in  intensive  propagation  and 
use  of  earthworms  we  must  deal  with  great  numbers  of  them. 
Otherwise,  we  cannot  expect  to  attain  results  worthy  of  con- 


Earthworms  in  General  Farming 

ONE  of  the  questions  most  frequently  asked  is  "How  would 
you  utilize  earthworms  for  large  acreage  and  general  farming?" 
We  are  fortunate  in  having  a  fact  story  of  a  large  Ohio  farm 
which  was  operated  with  full  use  of  earthworms  during  the 
period  from  about  1830  to  1890.  Early  in  our  research  into  the 
subject  of  earthworms,  we  came  in  contact  with  the  late  Dr. 
George  Sheffield  Oliver,  pioneer  earthworm  culturist  of  Cali- 
fornia. We  became  close  friends  and  collaborators  for  a  num- 
ber of  years  prior  to  his  death.  In  answer  to  our  questions  about 
the  use  of  earthworms  for  large  acreage,  Dr.  Oliver  related  to  us 
the  story  of  his  early  youth  on  his  grandfather's  farm.  We  can 
think  of  no  better  way  to  present  the  technique  for  utilization 
of  earthworms  in  general  farming  and  for  large  acreage  than  to 
tell  the  story,  reconstructing  it  very  much  as  Dr.  Oliver  told  it. 

While  this  story  gives  the  broad  basic  principles  for  use  of 
earthworms  in  general  farming,  the  earthworm  farmer  of  today 
will  have  the  advantage  of  modern  composting  techniques  and 
many  other  improvements  which  have  been  worked  out  during 
the  past  few  decades.  However,  the  earthworms  remain  the 
same,  for  they  have  come  down  to  us  practically  unchanged, 
from  remote  geological  ages  to  the  present. 

In  a  later  chapter,  we  shall  give  a  report  of  earthworm  till- 
age on  a  modern  farm,  with  results  which  are  corroborative  of 
those  reported  as  follows  by  Dr.  Oliver. 



My  Grandfather's  Earthworm  Farm 

The  story  of  a  self-contained  farm  of  160  acres,  main- 
tained in  ever-increasing  fertility  over  a  period  of  more 
than  60  years,  through  the  utilization  of  earthworms. 
A  fact  story  related  to  the  author  by  the  late  Dr.  George 
Sheffield  Oliver. 

WHEN,  as  a  small  boy,  I  went  to  live  with  my  grandfather, 
George  Sheffield,  in  northern  Ohio,  I  found  him  living  on  a 
model  farm  of  160  acres,  which  he  had  farmed  continuously 
for  more  than  sixty  years.  He  was  a  man  who  loved  the  soil 
and  took  pride  in  every  detail  of  his  farm.  I  remember  him  as 
a  tall,  striking  figure,  of  the  type  of  Edwin  Markham.  In 
fact,  in  later  years,  when  I  came  across  a  picture  of  the  poet 
Markham,  I  was  struck  by  the  close  resemblance  of  the  two 
men — their  features  were  almost  identical  and  they  could  have 
easily  been  taken  for  twins. 

Some  of  my  pleasantest  memories  from  the  period  of 
several  years  which  I  spent  on  this  farm  are  the  daily  horse- 
back rides  I  took  with  my  grandfather.  After  all  these  years  I 
can  still  see  him,  at  the  age  of  seventy-five,  riding  with  the  ease 
and  grace  of  the  practiced  horseman,  swinging  into  the  saddle 
with  the  facility  of  a  man  in  his  prime.  At  that  age  he  still 
took  delight  in  riding  the  young  three-year-olds.  He  lived  to  the 
ripe  old  age  of  ninety- three. 

Originally,  this  farm-holding  had  been  1,800  acres,  but  it 
had  been  sold  off  in  forty-acre  tracts  to  former  tenants  until 
there  remained  only  the  farmstead  of  160  acres.  It  had  been 
my  grandfather's  practice  to  select  young  single  men  as  farm 
help.  As  these  men  reached  maturity  and  married  and  wanted 
to  establish  homes  of  their  own,  my  grandfather  would  set  each 
of  them  up  on  a  tract  of  forty  acres  or  more,  assist  them  in  get- 
ting started,  and  accept  a  payment  contract  over  a  period  of 
forty  years.  Thus,  his  close  neighbors  were  men  who,  like  him- 


self,  loved  the  soil  and  could  cooperate  in  all  community  work. 
My  grandfather  often  remarked  that  he  was  making  more  profit 
from  his  remaining  160  acres  than  he  ever  made  on  the  original 
1800  acres,  due  to  his  lifetime  experience,  improved  methods, 
and  the  intensive  utilization  of  earthworms. 

The  homestead  was  located  at  the  center  of  the  farm.  Four 
acres  of  orchard  and  garden  furnished  an  abundance  of  fruits 
and  vegetables  the  year  round.  Root  cellars,  vegetable  banks, 
canned  and  dried  fruits  and  vegetables  provided  for  the  winter 
months.  The  house  and  orchard  were  backed  by  forty  acres  of 
timbered  land — maple,  hickory,  black  walnut,  burr  oak,  and  many 
other  trees  native  to  Ohio.  Incidentally,  the  farm  was  fenced 
with  black  walnut  rails — beautiful  timber  which  would  be  al- 
most priceless  at  this  time.  My  grandfather  called  this  timbered 
tract  his  park.  It  was  indeed,  a  wonderful  park,  abounding  in 
small  game  and  bird  life  to  delight  the  soul  of  a  small  boy  with 
his  first  gun.  The  park  was  well  watered  with  living  springs  and 
a  quite  generous-sized  creek  ran  through  it,  large  enough  to  fur- 
nish all  the  fish  the  family  needed.  I  was  designated  as  the 
official  fish-catcher,  a  task  which  I  dearly  loved. 

It  is  important  to  get  a  picture  of  the  lay-out  of  the  farm,  in 
order  to  understand  its  efficient  operation  without  waste  of  time 
and  energy.  It  was  divided  into  four  tracts  of  forty  acres  each. 
The  homestead,  with  orchard,  garden  and  park  occupied  one 
forty.  Near  the  center  of  the  160  acres  was  located  the  great 
barnyard  of  about  two  acres,  with  broad  swinging  gates  in  each 
of  the  four  sides,  opening  into  lanes  which  led  into  each  of  the 
forty-acre  tracts.  Thus  the  stock  could  be  herded  into  any  part 
of  the  farm,  simply  by  opening  the  proper  gate  and  driving  them 
through  the  lane  into  the  particular  section  that  was  to  be 

Located  in  the  four  corners  of  the  barnyard  were  the  straw- 
stacks — alternating  wheat  stack,  oat  stack,  wheat  stack,  oat  stack. 
These  stacks  occupied  permanent  raised  platforms,  about  six  feet 
above  the  ground,  resting  on  sturdy  walnut  posts  and  covered 


by  small  logs,  or  poles,  cut  from  the  woods.  The  stock  had 
good  shelter  under  these  platforms  in  the  winter,  feeding  on  the 
straw  overhead  through  the  cracks  between  the  logs.  Plenty 
of  straw  was  always  thrown  down  for  bedding.  My  grandfather 
claimed  that  each  kind  of  straw  added  valuable  elements  of  fer- 
tility to  his  compost,  and  he  alternated  the  strawstacks  so  that 
the  wheat  and  oat  straw  would  be  evenly  mixed. 

In  the  center  of  the  barnyard  was  the  compost  pit,  which,  in 
the  light  of  my  present  knowledge,  I  now  know  to  have*  been 
the  most  perfect  and  scientific  fertilizer  production  unit  I  have 
ever  known.  This  pit  was  fifty  feet  wide  and  one  hundred  feet 
long  and  had  been  excavated  to  a  depth  of  about  two  feet.  At 
each  end,  evenly  spaced  from  side  to  side  and  about  twenty 
feet  from  the  end,  a  heavy  log  post  was  deeply  anchored.  These 
posts  were  probably  twelve  to  fifteen  feet  high,  with  an  over- 
head cable  anchored  to  the  top  of  each  post  and  running  to  the 
barn.  On  these  cables  were  large  traveling  dump  baskets,  in 
which  the  manure  from  the  barn  was  transported  to  the  compost 
pit  and  dumped  each  morning,  to  be  evenly  spread  in  a  uniform 
layer.  By  means  of  the  posts  in  each  end,  the  manure  could  be 
dumped  at  a  spot  most  convenient  for  proper  handling.  With 
this  arrangement  of  overhead  trolley  from  barn  to  compost  pit, 
it  was  possible  to  clear  the  barn  quickly  each  morning  of  the 
night's  droppings  and  spread  the  material  in  the  pit  without  any 
loss  of  the  valuable  elements  of  fresh  manure.  This  is  an  im- 
portant point  in  the  utilization  of  earthworms  for  general  farming. 

Just  outside  the  barnyard  ran  the  creek,  which  found  its 
source  in  a  big  spring  in  the  park.  From  this  creek  an  abundance 
of  water  was  piped  by  gravity  into  the  watering  troughs  for  the 
stock  in  barn  and  yard.  Also  a  flume,  with  a  controlled  intake, 
led  to  the  compost  pit,  so  that  when  necessary  the  compost  could 
be  well  soaked  in  a  few  minutes.  The  homestead  occupied 
ground  on  a  higher  level  than  the  barnyard,  so  that  drainage 
was  always  away  from  the  house  and  there  was  no  chance  of 
pollution  from  the  teeming  life  of  the  barnyard. 


To  one  side  of  the  barnyard  and  at  a  higher  level  than  the 
floor  of  the  yard  was  located  the  ice  pond.  This  pond  was  so 
arranged  that  it  could  be  filled  from  a  flume,  leading  by  gravity 
from  the  creek  at  one  end,  while  at  the  lower  end  a  spillway 
was  provided  so  that  the  pond  could  be  drained.  At  the  proper 
season,  the  ice  pond  would  be  filled  and  when  the  ice'  formed 
to  the  right  thickness  the  annual  harvest  of  ice  was  cut  and 
stored  in  the  ice  house,  to  provide  an  abundance  of  ice  for  all 
purposes  the  year  round.  The  bottom  of  this  pond  was  formed 
of  a  fine-textured  red  clay.  Each  spring  the  pond  was  drained 
and  with  teams  of  scrapers  many  tons  of  this  clay  were  scraped 
out  and  diked  around  the  borders  of  the  pond  to  weather  for 
use  on  the  compost  heap. 

And  now  enters  the  earthworm.  For  more  than  sixty  years 
these  160  acres  had  been  farmed  without  a  single  crop  failure. 
My  grandfather  was  known  far  and  wide  for  the  unequaled 
excellence  of  his  corn  and  other  grain,  and  a  large  part  of  his 
surplus  was  disposed  of  at  top  prices  for  seed  purposes.  The 
farm  combined  general  farming  and  stock  raising;  my  grand- 
father's hobby,  for  pleasure  and  profit,  was  the  breeding  and 
training  of  fine  saddle  horses  and  matched  Hambletonian  teams. 
He  maintained  a  herd  of  about  fifty  horses,  including  stud, 
brood  mares,  and  colts  in  all  stages  of  development.  In  addi- 
tion to  horses,  he  had  cattle,  sheep,  hogs,  and  a  variety  of  fowl, 
including  a  flock  of  about  five  hunderd  chickens  which  had  the 
run  of  the  barnyard,  with  a  flock  of  ducks.  Usually  about  three 
hundred  head  of  stock  were  wintered.  The  hired  help  con- 
sisted of  three  or  four  men,  according  to  the  season,  with  addi- 
tional help  at  rush  seasons.  This  establishment  was  maintained 
in  prosperity  and  plenty,  and  my  grandfather  attributed  his 
unvarying  success  as  a  farmer  to  the  utilization  of  earthworms 
in  maintaining  and  rebuilding  the  fertility  of  the  soil  in  an  un- 
broken cycle.  The  heart  of  the  farming  technique  was  the  com- 
post pit. 


As  previously  mentioned,  the  pit  was  fifty  by  one  hundred 
feet,  excavated  to  a  depth  of  two  feet,  and  it  was  especially 
designed  to  provide  a  great  breeding  bed  for  earthworms. 
Literally  millions  of  earthworms  inhabited  the  pit  and  compost 
heap.  Each  morning  the  barn  was  cleaned,  the  droppings  for 
the  previous  twenty-four  hours  were  transported  to  the  heap  by 
the  dump  baskets  on  the  overhead  trolley,  and  evenly  spread 
over  the  surface.  The  building  of  the  compost  heap  was  an 
invariable  daily  routine  of  the  farm  work.  A  flock  of  chickens 
everlastingly  scratched  and  worked  in  the  barnyard,  assisted  by 
the  ducks,  gleaning  every  bit  of  undigested  grain  that  found  its 
way  into  the  manure,  and  incidentally  adding  about  twenty  tons 
of  droppings  per  year  to  the  material  which  eventually  found 
its  way  into  the  compost  heap.  The  cattle  and  sheep  grazed 
around  the  four  strawstacks  and  bedded  under  the  shelter  of  the 
stacks,  adding  their  droppings  to  the  surface  and  treading  them 
into  the  bedding  material.  From  time  to  time  the  entire  barn- 
yard was  raked  and  scraped,  the  combined  manure  and  litter 
being  harrowed  to  the  compost  heap  and  distributed  in  an  even 
layer  over  the  entire  surface.  As  the  compost  reached  a  depth 
of  twelve  or  fourteen  inches,  several  tons  of  the  red  clay  from 
the  border  of  the  ice  pond  would  be  hauled  in  and  spread  in  an 
even  layer  over  the  surface  of  the  compost.  Thus  the  variety 
of  animal  manures  from  horses,  cattle,  sheep,  hogs,  and  fowl 
alternated  in  the  heap  with  layers  of  the  fine-textured  clay,  rich 
in  mineral  elements.  Meantime,  beneath  the  surface  the  earth- 
worms multiplied  in  untold  millions,  gorging  ceaselessly  upon 
the  manures  and  decomposing  vegetable  matter,  as  well  as  the 
mineral  clay  soil,  and  depositing  their  excreta  in  the  form  of 
castings — a  completely  broken  down,  deodorized  soil,  rich  in  all 
the  elements  of  plant  life.  From  time  to  time  as  necessary 
(the  necessity  being  determined  by  careful  inspection  on  the  part 
of  my  grandfather),  the  compost  would  be  watered  through  the 
flume  leading  from  the  creek,  thus  being  provided  with  the 
moisture  needed  to  permit  the  earthworms  to  function  to  the 


greatest  advantage  in  their  life-work  of  converting  compost  to 

Within  a  few  months  the  earthworms  had  completed  their 
work.  When  spring  arrived,  the  season  of  the  annual  plowing, 
the  top  layer  of  the  heap  would  be  stripped  back,  revealing  the 
perfect  work  of  the  worms.  What  had  originally  been  an  ill- 
smelling  mixture  of  manure,  urine,  and  litter,  was  now  a  dark, 
fertile,  crumbly  soil,  with  the  odor  of  fresh-turned  earth.  This 
material  was  not  handled  with  forks,  but  with  shovels.  There 
were  no  dense  cakes  of  burned,  half-decomposed  manure.  My 
grandfather  would  take  a  handful  of  the  material  and  smell  of  it 
before  pronouncing  it  ready  for  the  fields.  The  "smell  test" 
was  a  sure  way  of  judging  the  quality.  When  perfect  trans- 
formation had  taken  place,  all  odor  of  manure  had  disappeared 
and  the  material  had  the  clean  smell  of  new  earth. 

At  this  time  of  the  year,  the  beginning  of  the  spring  plow- 
ing, the  compost  heap  was  almost  a  solid  mass  of  earthworms 
and  every  shovel  of  material  would  contain  scores  of  them.  As 
I  now  know  from  years  of  study  and  experiment,  every  cubic 
foot  of  this  material  contained  hundreds  and  hundreds  of  earth- 
worm egg-capsules,  each  of  which,  within  two  or  three  weeks 
after  burial  in  the  fields,  would  hatch  out  from  two  or  three  to 
as  high  as  twenty  worms.  Thus  the  newly  hatched  earthworms 
became  the  permanent  population  of  the  soil,  following  their 
life-work  of  digesting  the  organic  material,  mixing  and  com- 
bining it  with  much  earth  in  the  process,  and  depositing  it  in 
and  on  the  surface  as  castings — a  finely  conditioned,  homo- 
genized soil,  rich  in  the  stored  and  available  elements  of  plant 
food  in  water-soluble  form. 

When  the  spring  plowing  began,  the  following  method  was 
adopted:  Several  teams  were  used  with  the  plows,  while  two  or 
three  farm  wagons  with  deep  beds  were  employed  in  hauling 
the  crumbly  end-product  of  the  earthworms  from  the  compost 
pit  to  the  fields.  The  wagons  worked  ahead  of  the  plows,  the 
material  being  spread  generously  on  the  surface  and  quickly 


plowed  under.  Seldom  was  any  material  exposed  on  the  surface 
more  than  a  few  minutes  ahead  of  the  plows,  for  part  of  the 
technique  followed  was  to  plow  the  egg-capsules  and  live  earth- 
worms under,  so  that  as  many  of  the  earthworms  would  survive 
as  possible  to  continue  their  valuable  work  in  the  soil.  Also  it 
was  necessary  to  plow  the  worms  and  capsules  under  as  quickly 
as  possible  to  escape  the  voracious,  marauding  crows  which 
swarmed  in  great  flocks  to  the  feast  of  worms  and  capsules  so 
thoughtfully  spread  for  them.  At  this  time,  to  my  great  delight, 
I  was  appointed  crow  hunter.  Armed  with  a  light  shotgun,  I 
industriously  banged  away  at  the  crows  to  my  heart's  content, 
killing  some  of  them  and  keeping  hundreds  of  them  at  a  dis- 
tance until  the  plows  could  turn  the  earth  and  bury  the  worms 
and  capsules  safe  from  the  birds  and  the  sun.  I  estimate  that 
several  tons  per  acre  of  this  highly  potent  fertilizer  material 
were  annually  plowed  into  the  fields  in  perparation  for  the  crops 
to  follow.  On  account  of  this  technique,  not  only  was  the  earth 
continually  occupied  by  a  very  numerous  worm  population  tlie 
year  round,  but  annually  a  generous  "seeding"  with  live  earth- 
worms and  capsules  was  planted  to  replenish  and  help  renew  the 
fertility  of  the  earth. 

More  than  forty  years  after  my  experience  on  my  grand- 
father's farm,  studies  of  the  earthworms  in  the  soil  of  Ohio  were 
made  by  the  Ohio  State  University.  In  plots  of  soil  covered 
with  bluegrass,  on  the  Ohio  State  University  Farm,  they  found 
earthworms  in  numbers  of  one  million  or  more  per  acre.  From 
my  experience  of  almost  a  lifetime  of  study  and  experimentation 
with  earthworms,  I  am  sure  that  the  earthworm  population  of 
my  grandfather's  farm  far  exceeded  one  million  to  the  acre. 

In  the  annual  distribution  of  the  fertilizer,  my  grandfather 
never  completely  stripped  the  compost  pit.  One  year  he  would 
begin  the  hauling  at  one  end  of  the  pit,  stripping  back  the  top 
layers  of  material  which  had  not  been  broken  down,  leaving  a 
generous  portion  at  the  other  end  of  the  pit  as  breeding  and 
culture  ground.  After  the  hauling  of  the  fertilizer  was  com- 


pleted,  the  entire  remaining  contents  of  the  pit  were  evenly  spread 
over  the  entire  surface  for  "mother  substance"  and  the  new 
compost  heap  was  thus  begun.  By  this  method  there  was  al- 
ways left  a  very  large  number  of  breeding  earthworms,  with 
vast  numbers  of  egg  capsules,  to  repopulate  the  compost  pit  and 
carry  on  the  highly  important  work  of  providing  fertilizer  for 
the  coming  year.  In  this  warm,  highly  favorable  environment, 
the  worms  multiplied  with  maximum  rapidity. 

In  my  experiments  in  later  years,  I  determined  that  cer- 
tain breeds  of  earthworms,  in  a  favorable  environment  and  with 
an  abundance  of  food  material  to  work  on,  will  work  ceaselessly 
in  concentrations  of  more  than  50,000  to  the  cubic  yard;  also, 
that  50,000  earthworms  thus  working  will  completely  transform 
one  cubic  yard  of  material  per  month.  Thus,  in  nature  we  have 
a  constructive  force  which  creates  humus  with  amazing  rapidity 
when  given  the  opportunity  and,  under  proper  control,  furnishes 
a  method  of  utilizing  every  possible  end-product  of  biological 
activity  through  the  very  simple  process  of  composting  with 

Going  back  to  my  grandfather's  farm,  his  regular  rotation 
of  crops  was  corn,  wheat,  oats,  timothy,  and  clover  hay,  in  a 
three-year  cycle.  One  forty-acre  tract  was  planted  to  timothy 
and  clover  each  year.  A  crop  of  hay  was  harvested  and  stored 
for  the  winter,  the  field  was  used  for  grazing,  and  finally  a  crop 
was  turned  under  for  green  manure.  In  this  manner,  each 
year  one  forty  was  left  undisturbed  by  the  plow  for  a  number 
of  months,  allowing  the  earthworm  population  to  work  and  mul- 
tiply to  the  maximum,  while  converting  the  organic  content  of 
the  earth  into  the  finest  form  of  humus.  When  the  clover  fields 
were  plowed  under  an  almost  unbelievable  number  of  earth- 
worms was  revealed  as  the  sod  was  turned. 

One  fact  I  failed  to  mention  was  that  this  land  was  not 
usually  considered  the  finest  to  begin  with.  It  was  a  thin  top- 
soil,  only  six  to  eight  inches  in  depth  over  much  of  the  farm, 
underlaid  by  limestone.  On  account  of  the  shallow  depth  of  the 


soil,  deep  subsoil  plowing  was  not  possible.  I  well  remember 
how  the  plows  would  scoot  along  on  top  of  the  almost  surface 
limestone  layer.  However,  the  vast  earthworm  population  pene- 
trated deeply  into  the  subsoil  and  constantly  brought  up  parent 
mineral  material  to  combine  with  the  surface  soil,  which  made 
up  for  the  lack  of  deep  soil.  My  grandfather  often  remarked 
that  in  all  his  sixty  years  of  farming  he  had  never  had  a  crop 
failure.  His  corn  was  the  finest  in  all  the  country  and  was 
eagerly  sought  for  seed.  He  also  originated  a  sweet  corn,  of  a 
delicious  flavor,  which  was  very  highly  esteemed  throughout  that 
section  and  was  known  at  that  time  as  "Sheffield  corn."  The 
ears  were  very  uniform  and  evenly  filled  to  the  end,  and  I  re- 
member that  the  cob  of  this  special  corn  was  hardly  larger  than 
a  carpenter's  lead  pencil.  My  grandfather  never  sold  this  corn, 
but  reserved  it  to  give  to  friends  who  came  from  far  and  wide 
for  the  prized  seed  and  even  wrote  to  him  from  distant  points 
for  seed. 

Now  looking  back  through  the  long  vista  of  years  to  the 
method  practiced  on  my  grandfather's  farm,  in  the  light  of  my 
own  experience  as  well  as  the  experience  of  a  host  of  others, 
I  am  struck  by  the  reflection  that  here  was  a  simple  farmer, 
working  without  any  specialized  knowledge  of  earthworms  to 
begin  with,  long  before  Charles  Darwin's  famous  book  on  The 
Formation  of  Vegetable  Mould  appeared;  and  yet,  in  an  in- 
tensely practical  way,  utilizing  all  that  Darwin  later  revealed  in 
his  great  book,  but  with  the  exception  that  Darwin  never  sug- 
gested the  "harnessing  of  the  earthworm"  for  intensive  human 
use.  Darwin's  classic  study  only  emphasized  the  importance  of 
the  work  of  the  earthworm  in  nature,  with  no  practical  applica- 
tion to  the  personal  agricultural  problems  of  man. 

Before  ending  this  narrative  of  my  grandfather's  earthworm 
farm,  I  must  mention  the  orchard,  the  garden,  and  the  fence 
rows.  The  fence  rows  throughout  the  farm  were  planted  to  a 
great  variety  of  fruit  trees,  which  were  allowed  to  develop  from 
seedlings.  Particularly  do  I  remember  the  cherry  trees,  some 


of  them  fifty  feet  high  and  each  tree  bearing  a  different  kind 
of  fruit.  In  the  four  acres  of  orchard  and  garden  surrounding 
the  house  there  was  produced  a  great  variety  of  fruit,  furnishing 
an  abundance,  in  season,  for  the  family  as  well  as  for  many  of 
the  neighbors.  In  those  days  the  fruit  was  not  sold.  I  remem- 
ber an  often-repeated  remark  of  my  grandfather  upon  the  care 
of  trees,  especially  fruit  trees.  He  said,  "Never  disturb  the  soil 
under  a  tree.  The  earthworm  is  the  best  plow  for  a  tree  and 
I  do  not  want  them  disturbed."  The  vegetable  garden  was  espe- 
cially fine,  kept  wonderfully  enriched  from  the  compost  pit,  the 
soil  being  literally  alive  with  earthworms.  A  profusion  of  flowers, 
both  potted  and  otherwise,  as  well  as  a  wealth  of  shrubbery, 
beautified  the  place.  For  choice  flowers,  we  would  use  a  rich 
mixture  of  fine  soil  and  material  from  the  compost  pit. 

My  grandfather's  earthworm  farm  furnishes  an  example  of 
the  technique  for  utilizing  the  earthworm  in  general  farming 
operations,  either  on  a  large  or  small  scale.  From  my  observa- 
tions as  a  small  boy,  supplemented  by  much  friendly  and  loving 
instruction  from  my  grandfather  on  the  subject  of  earthworms, 
and  from  more  than  forty  years'  experience  in  my  own  work,  I 
am  fully  convinced  that  the  harnessing  of  the  earthworm  will 
be  one  of  the  major  factors  in  the  eventual  salvation  of  the  soil. 
I  know  that  the  soil  can  be  made  to  produce  several  times  as  much 
as  the  present  average,  through  the  utilization  of  the  earthworm. 


Orcharding  With  Earthworms 

IN  THE  story  of  "My  Grandfather's  Earthworm  Farm"  George 
Sheffield  is  quoted  as  saying,  in  regard  to  the  care  of  trees, 
"Never  disturb  the  soil  under  a  tree."  The  wisdom  of  this  re- 
mark is  appreciated  fully  only  when  a  study  is  made  of  the 
subject  of  orcharding.  When  we  go  to  nature  where  primeval 
forests  have  stood  for  centuries,  we  find  the  ground  riddled  to 
great  depth  by  earthworm  burrows.  Earthworms  like  to  work  in 
the  shade,  among  the  fine  roots  of  trees,  finding  sustenance  in 
the  organic  debris  and  bacterial  life  of  the  soil,  in  the  dead  bac- 
teria as  well  as  the  products  of  bacterial  life.  Aside  from  vege- 
tation, there  is  a  vast  world  of  unseen  bacterial  life  in  the  soil, 
amounting  in  aggregate  weight  in  the  case  of  fertile  agricultural 
lands  to  much  more  than  all  animal  life  which  crawls,  creeps, 
walks,  runs,  and  flies  on  and  above  the  surface  of  the  ground. 
Because  we  do  not  see  this  microscopic  universe,  we  may  not 
visualize  or  sense  its  extent. 

The  multiplication  of  bacteria  is  so  rapid  that,  starting  with 
a  single  cell,  under  favorable  conditions,  the  numbers  will  reach 
astronomical  figures  within  a  few  hours,  with  a  bulk  and  weight 
of  such  magnitude  that  the  human  mind  cannot  grasp  the  total. 
The  number  of  bacteria  in  an  ounce  of  fertile  topsoil  is  variously 
estimated  as  from  eighteen  million  to  twenty-four  billion.  When 
we  consider  that  bacteria  appear  as  dots  under  the  microscope 



when  magnified  one  thousand  times,  the  results  of  such  multi- 
plication become  still  harder  to  grasp.  If  we  were  to  magnify 
a  man  to  one  thousand  times  his  size,  he  would  appear  more 
than  one  mile  tall  and  a  quarter-mile  broad.  On  this  point  we 
shall  quote  from  Bacteria  in  Relation  to  Soil  Fertility*,  by  Dr. 
Joseph  E.  Greaves  (M.S.,  Ph.D.,  Professor  of  Bacteriology  and 
Physiological  Chemistry,  Utah  Agricultural  College)  : 

A  bacterial  generation  is  taken  as  the  time  required  for  a 
mature  cell  to  divide  and  the  resulting  daughter  cells  to  reach 
maturity.  This  process  may  be  completed  in  half  an  hour — at 
times  even  more  rapidly.  Under  less  favorable  circumstances  it 
may  be  much  longer.  It  has  been  estimated  that  if  bacterial  mul- 
tiplication went  unchecked  the  descendants  of  one  cell  would  in 
two  days  number  281,500,000,000,  and  that  in  three  days  the 
descendants  of  this  single  cell  would  weigh  148,356,000  pounds. 
It  has  been  further  estimated  by  an  eminent  biologist  that  if 
proper  conditions  could  be  maintained  for  their  life  activity,  in 
less  than  five  days  they  would  make  a  mass  which  would  com- 
pletely fill  as  much  space  as  is  occupied  by  all  the  oceans  on  the 
.earth's  surface,  if  the  water  had  an  average  depth  of  one  mile. 

Lest  some  reader  becomes  alarmed  about  bacteria,  let  us 
state  that  they  are  self-limiting,  the  same  as  other  life-forms, 
being  strictly  limited  by  the  amount  of  food  available  in  their 
environment.  Also,  the  by-products  of  their  own  life-processes 
accumulate  rapidly  and,  as  it  were,  they  are  soon  stewing  in 
their  own  juice  to  their  own  destruction.  Incidentally,  it  is 
doubtful  that,  in  the  absence  of  the  bacterial  life  of  the  soil, 
the  higher  forms  of  animal  life  could  exist.  Like  the  earthworm, 
bacteria  are  the  unseen  but  ceaseless  transformers  of  the  end- 
products  of  life  back  to  the  soil  in  the  eternal  cycle — from 
earth,  through  life,  back  to  the  earth. 

The  above  may  at  first  appear  as  a  digression  from  the 
subject  of  orcharding.  However,  in  considering  the  nutrition 

*P*ge  26. 


of  trees  through  the  aid  of  earthworms,  it  is  important  to  under- 
stand fully  the  source  of  nutrition  for  the  worms  as  well  as  for 
the  trees.  There  is  much  more  sustenance  in  the  soil  than  may 
be  derived  from  the  gross  forms  of  vegetation  in  and  above 
the  earth.  So,  in  considering  the  life  of  a  tree  and  its  nutrition, 
it  is  well  to  examine  the  elements  which  enter  into  its  growth 
and  maintenance. 

We  stand  in  awed  amazement  as  we  contemplate  a  Sequoia 
gigantea,  towering  nearly  three  hundred  feet  into  the  air,  bear- 
ing within  its  bulk  trainloads  of  material,  carrying  concealed 
within  its  growth-rings  its  recorded  age  record  of  perhaps  three 
to  five  thousand  years.  Where  did  it  come  from,  how  did  it 
grow,  from  what  hidden  source  does  its  mighty  heart  draw  its 
inconceivable  strength?  No  man  has  carried  small  bags  of 
chemical  fertilizer  in  a  foolish  attempt  to  help  nourish  this  tree 
into  its  giant  size.  No  man-made  plow  has  disturbed  the  sur- 
face of  the  earth  at  its  base.  Yet  here  it  stands,  with  a  life- 
span  reaching  toward  a  geological  age.  We  are  reminded  of 
the  scriptural  injunction,  "Consider  the  lilies,  how  they  grow," 
and  might  well  paraphrase  the  line  to  read,  "Consider  the  trees, 
how  they  grow !" 

When  we  come  to  orcharding  with  the  aid  of  earthworms, 
we  should  not  be  too  much  concerned  about  fertilizers,  or  worry 
at  all  about  cultivation.  The  thing  to  do  is  to  offer  a  little 
friendly  cooperation  with  nature,  stand  back,  and  watch  the  tree 

While  the  same  principles  apply  to  orcharding  in  general, 
our  studies  of  the  earthworm  in  orcharding  have  been  confined 
for  the  most  part  to  citrus  orcharding,  by  reason  of  the  fact 
that  we  live  in  Southern  California  where  citrus  fruit  is  the  main 
orcharding  industry.  Some  time  ago  we  visited  the  great  orange- 
growing  section  around  Riverside,  California,  the  particular  end 
of  our  journey  being  "Hanford  Loam,"  a  grove  which  the 
owner,  Mr.  Frank  Hinckley,  has  operated  by  the  non-cultivation 
method  for  a  period  of  more  than  twenty  years.  Mr.  Hinckley 


is  a  hard-headed,  successful  orange  grower  and  business  man 
who  has  made  money  growing  oranges.  He  has  been  growing 
oranges  all  his  life  and  his  experience  covers  a  period  of  more 
than  forty  yiears.  He  is  well  educated,  well  informed,  methodical, 
and  practical ;  and,  as  he  has  kept  careful  records  for  many  years, 
he  has  his  data  and  knows  what  he  is  talking  about.  The  ten- 
acre  tract  comprising  Hanford  Loam  is  one  of  the  outstanding 
groves  of  the  state.  We  were  amazed  at  the  size  and  luxuriance 
of  the  trees.  Many  of  the  leaves  were  of  such  unusual  size 
as  to  be  almost  unbelievable  when  compared  with  the  foliage 
of  the  average  orange  tree. 

Mr.  Hinckley's  own  story  of  his  experience  in  developing 
this  grove  conveys  the  facts  in  a  most  forceful  manner.  After 
our  visit  to  his  place,  we  wrote  him  a  letter  requesting  a  report 
for  our  records.  Under  date  of  October  17,  1939,  we  received 
the  following  letter. 


I  have  your  letter  of  October  10th  and  will  try  to  give 
some  information  that  will  be  of  value  in  your  research. 

I  might  say  that  my  experience  with  the  earthworms  is  more 
on  the  practical  side  than  on  the  experimental.  On  one  of  my 
ten-acre  groves,  Hanford  Loam,  I  discontinued  all  cultivation 
about  eighteen  years  ago.  At  that  time  the  twenty-eight-year- 
old  trees  appeared  to  have  reached  their  limit  as  to  size  and  pro- 
duction, about  three  hundred  boxes  per  acre  per  year. 

The  first  year  after  changing  my  cultural  method  to  one  of 
non- cultivation,  I  noticed  a  great  difference  in  water  penetra- 
tion. Plow  sole  was  eliminated,  the  trees  started  growing,  and 
they  have  continued  to  do  so  ever  since,  until  now  they  are 
large,  fine  trees,  and  my  production  average  for  the  last  fifteen 
years  has  been  about  630  boxes  per  acre  per  year. 

Soon  after  I  quit  all  cultivation,  I  noticed  that  the  earth- 
worms were  doing  a  wonderful  job  of  tilling  the  soil ;  they 
eliminated  all  plow  sole,  leaving  the  ground  porous  and  mellow. 
I  also  perceived  that  they  were  feeding  on  the  leaves  that  had 
accumulated  in  the  furrows  and  around  under  the  trees.  Raking 
the  leaves  out  from  under  the  trees  and  placing  them  beneath  the 


drip  of  the  trees  encouraged  the  worms  to  work  that  portion 
of  the  soil  most,  as  it  kept  more  moist.  Under  such  ideal  con- 
ditions, the  earthworms  rapidly  increased  until  now  they  are 
able  to  work  every  foot  of  soil  in  my  grove — in  fact,  I  might 
say. the  soil  is  continually  in  motion.  As  the  trees  have  a  heavy 
foliage  of  large  leaves,  the  leaf-drop  seems  to  furnish  ample 
food  for  the  worms. 

I  have  used  a  soluble  commercial  fertilizer,  calcium  nitrate 
or  sulphate  of  ammonia,  for  the  past  twenty  years,  with  the 
exception  of  one  year  when  I  used  cottonseed  meal.  Until  six 
years  ago  I  averaged  about  3^4  pounds  of  actual  nitrogen  per 
tree  per  year,  but  the  last  six  years  I  have  averaged  1  1/3  pounds 
of  actual  nitrogen  per  tree  per  year.  There  has  been  no  organic 
matter  added  to  this  grove  since  the  fall  of  1919.  The  quality 
of  the  fruit  has  been  above  the  average;  also  the  sizes  have 
been  in  the  desirable  brackets.  In  my  opinion  there  is  no  doubt 
that  the  earthworms  add  fertility  on  the  soil  besides  conditioning  it. 

I  also  have  a  twenty-acre  grove  in  sandy  soil,  which  I  took 
care  of  in  the  mechanical  way  for  fourteen  years,  and  I  saw 
very  few  worms  in  all  that  time.  For  the  past  fourteen  years, 
however,  I  have  applied  my  non-cultivation  method,  and  the 
worms  are  increasing  every  year.  They  started  at  the  lower  end 
of  the  furrows,  where  the  soil  is  heaviest ;  and  as  the  soil  changes 
from  the  accumulation  of  leaves  around  the  trees,  the  worms 
are  able  to  live  and  increase. 

These  groves  are  kept  clean  of  weeds  by  hoeing;  the  fur- 
rows have  become  shallow  and  wide  from  hoeing  and  raking 
the  leaves.  The  water  can  thus  cover  a  larger  area  of  the  sur- 
face, making  as  much  soil  as  possible  available  for  the  worms 
to  use  during  the  dry  season,  without  extra  expense. 

I  also  have  a  lot  of  sixty-five  orange  trees  at  home,  which 
I  purchased  a  year  ago.  This  soil  is  a  heavy  red  soil  and  very 
subject  to  plow  sole.  I  am  well  pleased  with  the  way  the  worms 
have  multiplied  and  eliminated  the  plow  sole  under  my  method 
within  the  year;  and  they  will  no  doubt  continue  to  better  the 
soil  and  aid  the  trees. 

In  regard  to  the  amount  of  water  used,  I  find  that  since 
the  worms  have  opened  up  the  soil  water  penetrates  more  freely. 
I  can  irrigate  in  a  much  shorter  time  and  with  a  larger  volume 
of  water  per  furrow.  Under  this  method  of  non-cultivation,  I 
use  a  little  less  water,  but  the  trees  are  able  to  use  more  of  that 
which  is  applied. 


Our  Deputy  Farm  Adviser  is  making  a  graph,  consisting 
of  the  sizes,  grades,  and  amount  of  boxes  covering  the  past 
twenty  years.  When  I  receive  these  data,  I  will  be  glad  to  send 
them  to  you  if  you  so  desire.  Thank  you  for  your  interest  in 
my  work. 

Very  truly, 

(signed)     FRANK  HINCKLEY 

At  the  date  of  this  writing,  January  of  1944,  it  is  of  in- 
terest to  point  out  that  Mr.  Hinckley  had  eliminated  the  plow 
from  his  orcharding  operations  more  than  twenty  years  before 
the  appearance  of  Edward  H.  Faulkner's  book,  Plowman's  Folly, 
currently  on  its  way  to  becoming  a  best  seller.  Since  receiving 
the  above  report  from  Mr.  Hinckley,  we  have  visited  his  place 
a  number  of  times  and  a  good  many  interesting  details  have  been 
brought  out,  with  many  things  not  covered  in  his  letter.  One 
of  the  most  astonishing  statements  was  made  by  him  in  answer 
to  our  question,  "How  much  money  do  you  have  invested  in 
machinery?"  Mr.  Hinckley  replied:  "I  have  thirty  acres  in 
oranges  in  Hanford  Loam  and  another  grove  near  there.  I  be- 
lieve my  total  investment  in  machinery  is  less  than  ten  dollars, 
consisting  of  hoes  and  rakes.  A  near  neighbor,  with  thirty-two 
acres  of  oranges,  has  over  four  thousand  dollars'  worth  of  ma- 
chinery and  hires  an  expert  to  operate  it.  I  call  in  a  Mexican 
boy  every  other  month  and  we  go  over  my  groves  with  hoe  and 
rake  to  eliminate  the  few  weeds  which  come  from  seeds  that 
are  blown  in  by  the  wind." 

Mr.  Hinckley  stated  that  after  the  initial  change  from  the 
old  cultural  methods,  his  labor  costs  were  less.  By  use  of  the 
hoe  promptly  to  eliminate  weeds,  never  allowing  them  to  go 
to  seed,  the  orchard  was  soon  practically  free  from  weeds.  No 
tractors  or  machines  are  required  in  the  non-cultivation  method ; 
therefore  the  trees  do  not  need  to  be  trimmed  high.  In  Mr. 
Hinckley's  orchard  the  trees  have  been  allowed  to  develop  until 
the  limbs  practically  touch  the  ground,  maintaining  a  dense  shade 
over  the  entire  surface  and  an  unfavorable  environment  for 


weeds.  Also  the  shade  conserves  surface  moisture  and  this  fa- 
vors the  development  of  a  large  earthworm  population. 

In  the  case  of  Mr.  Hinckley,  there  was  no  special  propaga- 
tion of  earthworms.  He  simply  created  a  favorable  environment 
for  the  development  of  the  native  earthworm  population,  discon- 
tinued plowing  and  breaking  up  their  breeding  grounds,  provided 
cover  for  the  worms  in  the  form  of  leaf-drop  raked  underneath 
the  drip  of  the  tree,  and  the  worms  began  to  multiply.  After 
a  few  years  this  grove  has  become  one  vast  earthworm  culture 
bed.  At  the  time  this  chapter  is  written,  Mr.  Hinckley's  orchard 
is  over  fifty  years  old  and  is  in  greater  production  than  ever  be- 
fore, whereas  at  the  time  the  new  method  was  started  the  grove 
was  twenty-eight  years  old  and  was  not  showing  a  profit.  In 
fact,  it  was  going  back. 

In  orcharding  with  the  aid  of  earthworms,  a  small,  highly 
productive,  long-lived  orchard,  with  top  quality  fruit,  lower  labor 
costs,  less  fertilizer  costs,  and  the  practical  elimination  of  culls, 
can  be  made  to  take  the  place  of  a  much  larger  acreage  under 
the  generally  accepted  cultural  methods.  Through  earthworm  cul- 
ture, young  groves  can  be  brought  to  profitable  production  in 
a  much  shorter  period  of  time  than  by  the  old  methods ;  and 
the  life  of  a  grove,  with  earthworms  instead  of  plows,  extends 
far  beyond  the  life  of  a  grove  where  the  earthworms  are 
constantly  retarded  in  their  development  by  frequent  ploughing. 
And  where  heavy  use  of  chemical  fertilizers  is  the  practice,  the 
earthworm  population  may  entirely  disappear,  and,  in  addition, 
the  highly  important  bacterial  life  of  the  soil  be  inhibited. 

The  quickest  method  for  developing  earthworms  in  orchards 
is  to  establish  generous  colonies  of  "domesticated  earthworms" 
under  each  tree,  with  organic  fertilization  similar  to  that  used 
on  "My  Grandfather's  Earthworm  Farm."  By  this  method  the 
proliferation  of  earthworms  is  accelerated  many  times  beyond 
anything  found  in  nature.  Within  a  few  months  results  may 
be  obtained  which  would  otherwise  require  years.  Methods  for 


intensive  propagation  of  domesticated  earthworms  for  all  hor- 
ticultural purposes  will  be  taken  up  in  later  chapters. 

Since  becoming  acquainted  with  Mr.  Hinckley  and  his 
methods  and  results  through  "earthworm  tillage,"  we  have  had 
reports  from  a  number  of  other  orchardists.  We  will  mention 
one  small  tract  in  particular,  a  five-acre  grove  near  Costa  Mesa, 
California.  It  is  handled  by  methods  similar  to  Mr.  Hinckley's 
grove ;  that  is,  methods  which  we  have  called  "earthworm  tillage." 
For  the  year  1945  the  owner  of  this  grove  stated  that  he  received 
a  gross  amount  of  $7,500  for  his  orange  crop  from  these  five 
acres.  Examination  shows  that  the  entire  tract  is  really  a  great 
earthworm  culture  bed.  From  a  few  such  reports  investigated, 
we  are  led  to  conclude  that  the  earthworm  doubtless  deserves 
credit  for  many  of  the  outstanding  results  which  have  been  ob- 
served in  other  successful  orchards. 

While  we  have  discussed  the  earthworm  in  citrus  orchard- 
ing, the  same  principles  apply  to  other  types  of  orcharding,  as 
well  as  to  general  farming  and  production  of  food  crops.  What 
we  wish  to  emphasize,  regardless  of  vegetation  under  considera- 
tion, is  that  with  earthworms  and  the  other  allied  forces  of 
nature,  utilized  properly,  we  obtain  a  soil  with  a  maximum  of 
plant  nutrients  in  available  form.  From  such  soil,  experience 
has  shown  that  maximum  production  results  are  obtained,  both 
in  quantity  and  quality. 


Domesticated  Earthworms 

IN  THE  unhurried  processes  of  nature  it  may  require  from  forty 
to  fifty  years  for  native  earthworms  to  spread  slowly  from  a 
single  breeding  colony  and  fully  impregnate  an  acre  of  ground. 
In  England,  where  the  earthworms  had  been  working  in  a  fairly 
favorable  environment  through  geological  ages,  Darwin  found 
native  earthworms  in  numbers  ranging  from  25,000  to  50,000 
or  more  per  acre  in  some  soils,  which  means  less  than  one  worm 
per  cubic  foot  of  surface  soil.  Even  in  these  small  numbers,  as 
has  been  pointed  out,  Darwin  estimated  that  from  ten  to  eighteen 
tons  of  dry  material  per  acre  passed  through  the  bodies  of 
earthworms  in  England  each  year  to  be  deposited  in  and  on 
the  surface  as  castings. 

We  have  previously  mentioned  the  earthworms  in  the  State 
of  Ohio,  where  they  have  been  found  in  bluegrass  land  in  num- 
bers upwards  of  a  million  per  acre.  If  we  figure  an  average 
working  depth  of  thirty  inches,  one  million  worms  per  acre 
would  mean,  in  round  numbers,  about  ten  worms  per  cubic  foot. 
A  population  of  two  to  four  native  earthworms  per  cubic  foot 
in  farm  soil  or  other  soil  is  considered  a  quite  numerous  earth- 
worm population.  In  previous  pages  we  have  shown  the  almost 
incredible  amount  of  cultivation  and  translocation  of  soil  which 
earthworms  perform  under  favorable  conditions.  In  intensive 
propagation  and  use,  we  control  the  environment  and  create 
nutritional  conditions  which  are  most  favorable  to  proliferation 



and  growth  of  earthworms.  We  commonly  develop  culture  beds 
with  concentrations  of  as  many  as  3,000  worms  per  cubic  foot, 
with  corresponding  results  in  the  production  of  humus.  To 
breed  worms  in  such  great  numbers  in  limited  space,  we  must, 
of  course,  provide  food  material  and  soil-building  elements  for 
them  to  work  with.  It  should  always  be  borne  in  mind  that 
worms  live  on  the  organic  contents  of  the  soil.  Therefore,  if 
the  soil  furnished  them  is  deficient  in  organic  material,  the 
worms  cannot  live  in  it.  They  do  not  secure  any  nutrition  from 
the  purely  mineral  content  of  the  soil,  but  only  from  the  or- 
ganic content  that  has  been  derived  through  life  processes. 

In  the  adaptation  of  the  earthworm  as  a  controlled  servant 
of  man,  the  elements  of  chance  must  be  eliminated  and  results 
must  be  measured  in  units  of  time.  While  we  may  build  soil 
for  future  generations,  we  want  to  have  the  benefit  of  the  soil 
here  and  now,  and  this  is  the  reason  for  intensive  breeding  of 
earthworms.  Working  with  the  sure  methods  of  definite  pur- 
pose and  knowledge,  we  may  achieve  results  within  a  few  months 
which  would  otherwise  require  many  decades  to  accomplish, 
were  we  to  wait  on  the  leisurely  processes  of  nature,  which 
take  no  account  of  time. 

In  using  the  term  "domesticated  earthworm,"  we  are  re- 
ferring to  a  breed  of  earthworms  which  has  been  developed  and 
modified  by  selective  breeding  and  feeding  over  a  period  of 
several  years,  to  meet  the  requirements  for  intensive  use  in 
horticulture  and  agriculture.  The  original  object  of  the  ex- 
perimental work  which  led  to  the  development  of  the  domesticated 
earthworm  was  to  eliminate  the  elements  of  chance  which  are 
encountered  in  dealing  with  the  exceedingly  numerous  varieties 
of  native  earthworms ;  to  speed  up  results  to  meet  the  demands 
of  practical  people  under  all  conditions  and  environments,  both 
city  and  country;  and,  above  all,  to  develop  an  earthworm  which 
would  be  adaptable  to  every  kind  of  soil  and  food  and  one  which 
could  be  changed  readily  from  one  environment  to  another.  The 
ordinary  native  earthworm  is  a  slave  to  the  environment  into 


which  it  is  born.  It  is  hatched  from  the  egg-capsule  as  a  f-ull- 
fledged  earthworm  and  immediately  begins  its  life-work  of  de- 
vouring the  surrounding  soil  in  search  for  sustenance.  It  grows 
to  maturity  on  the  available  food  present,  and  its  chemical 
makeup  adapts  itself  to  the  particular  element  in  which  it  lives. 
Transfer  the  native  earthworm  to  a  different  soil  or  food,  and 
it  will  usually  die,  or  at  least  require  a  long  period  of  time  to 
adapt  itself  and  become  prolific  in  the  new  location. 

Another  important  consideration  in  earthworm  culture  is 
the  question  of  fertility  and  proliferation.  In  some  species,  great 
numbers  of  infertile  capsules  are  produced  and  only  one  or  two 
worms  will  be  hatched  from  the  fertile  capsule.  In  other  species 
practically  all  the  capsules  are  fertile,  and  each  will  hatch  out 
from  three  or  four  to  as  high  as  twenty  worms.  Some  species 
Jive  and  thrive  only  in  a  very  limited  range  of  soil  acidity;  in 
fact,  must  have  an  almost  neutral  soil  to  survive.  Others  will 
thrive  and  multiply  in  a  very  wide  range  of  soil,  from  very  acid 
to  markedly  alkaline.  The  serious  importance  of  this  point  of 
soil  acidity  will  be  appreciated  by  those  who  have  made  some 
study  of  the  chemical  nature  of  soils  and  plant  nutrition. 

In  what  we  have  termed  "selective  feeding  and  breeding," 
various  species  of  earthworms  were  used,  habits  observed,  unde- 
sirable members  culled  out,  and  gradually  cultures  of  earthworms 
were  obtained  which  answered  the  purposes  of  intensive  propaga- 
tion under  control  for  horticultural,  agricultural,  and  other  uses. 
When  we  speak  of  "domesticated  earthworms,"  we  are  dealing 
with  native  earthworms  which  have  been  modified  by  environ- 
ment and  feeding.  When  earthworm  egg-capsules  are  hatched 
out  in  a  new  environment,  that  environment  becomes  the  natural 
one  for  the  newly  hatched  worms,  whereas  a  worm  which  has 
developed  in  an  entirely  different  environment  might  not  survive 
if  transplanted  into  a  strange  soil.  It  is  this  fact  of  the  adapt- 
ability of  the  newly  hatched  worm  to  the  particular  soil  in  which 
it  is  hatched  which  makes  it  possible  to  engage  in  intensive  earth- 
worm culture  for  the  production  of  egg-capsules  which,  when 


placed  in  a  new  environment,  will  hatch  worms  that  are  adapted 
to  the  soil  in  which  they  are  born. 

So  great  is  the  modification  of  various  species  of  native 
earthworms,  under  special  environmental  conditions  and  feed- 
ing, that  the  layman  or  untrained  observer  may  conclude  that  he 
has  produced  a  new  species  of  earthworm.  However,  when  we 
submit  the  "domesticated  earthworm"  to  a  competent  zoologist 
for  laboratory  identification  and  classification,  we  learn  that  we 
are  still  dealing  with  some  species  of  native  earthworm  which 
has  been  modified  by  changes  in  environment  and  nutritional 
factors.  Thus  when  we  observe  marked  changes  in  earthworms, 
under  special  breeding  and  cultural  conditions,  we  should  not 
jump  to  the  conclusion  that  we  have  discovered  or  produced  a 
new  species  of  earthworm.  As  stated  before,  earthworms  have 
survived  through  remote  geological  ages  down  to  the  present 
practically  unchanged  as  to  species,  but  with  widely  varying 
characteristics  in  different  localities,  such  characteristics  being 
due  to  the  fact  that  the  worms  change  and  adapt  themselves  to 
the  nutritional  environment  into  which  they  have  been  hatched. 
The  wide  distribution  of  earthworms  throughout  the  earth  is 
due  to  the  fact  that  they  can  adapt  themselves  to  new  environ- 
ments and  new  foods. 

Regardless  of  where  earthworms  are  found,  or  what  species 
we  are  dealing  with,  the  one  important  fact  to  bear  in  mind  is 
that  all  of  them  accomplish  the  same  end — they  eat  their  way 
through  the  earth,  swallowing  the  soil  with  all  that  it  contains, 
carrying  it  through  the  digestive  mill  of  the  alimentary  canal, 
and  finally  ejecting  it  as  highly  refined  and  conditioned  topsoil. 

At  this  point,  we  wish  to  give  full  credit  to  the  late  Dr. 
George  Sheffield  Oliver  for  the  development  of  the  "domesticated 
earthworm"  which  we  have  used  in  our  soil-building  research. 
In  the  story  of  "My  Grandfather's  Earthworm  Farm,"  we  have 
the  background  of  Dr.  Oliver's  later  experiments  and  accom- 
plishments in  earthworm  culture.  His  experiences  as  a  small 
boy  on  that  Ohio  farm  implanted  in  his  young  mind  those  in- 


eradicable  memories  and  impressions,  with  definite  knowledge 
of  the  value  of  earthworms,  which  many  years  later  led  him 
into  intensive  earthworm  farming.  More  than  forty  years  after 
leaving  his  grandfather's  farm,  Dr.  Oliver  found  himself  en- 
gaged in  'landscape  gardening.  His  mind  naturally  turned  to 
ways  and  means  for  utilizing  his  early  knowledge  of  earthworms. 
Recalling  that  great  earthworm  culture  bed  in  his  grandfather's 
barnyard,  about  which  the  whole  economy  of  the  farm  revolved, 
he  began  his  own  experiments  with  earthworms,  which  led  to 
the  development  of  the  domesticated  earthworm.  To  the  day  of 
his  death  Dr.  Oliver  was  firmly  convinced  that  he  had  succeeded 
in  producing  a  hybrid  earthworm.  This  point  is  not  highly  im- 
portant. The  important  point  is  that  through  his  work  of 
selective  feeding  and  breeding  he  did  succeed  in  producing  an 
earthworm  with  characteristics  which  answer  perfectly  all  the 
requirements  for  intensive  propagation  and  use.  To  get  first- 
hand information  on  the  development  of  this  modified  worm,  we 
applied  to  Dr.  Oliver  himself.  The  story  is  best  given  in  his  own 
words,  a  letter  written  under  the  date  of  January  30,  1940,  which 
we  quote  as  follows : 


In  answer  to  your  request  for  information  about  the  develop- 
ment of  what  you  call  the  domesticated  earthworm,  it  is  a  long 
story.  It  would  take  a  rather  large  book  to  record  the  details 
of  my  ups  and  downs  while  experimenting  with  earthworms.  I 
will  try  to  give  you  the  essential  facts  as  briefly  as  possible.  To 
begin  with,  your  term  "domesticated  earthworm"  is  a  quite  ap- 
propriate name,  for  the  worms  which  I  have  developed  certainly 
like  to  live  at  home.  One  of  their  most  valuable  charcteristics 
is  that  they  do  not  wander  away  from  the  vicinity  where  the 
home  colony  has  been  established. 

As  you  know,  my  interest  in  earthworms  dates  from  the 
time  I  lived  for  a  number  of  years  on  my  grandfather's  farm 
back  in  Ohio.  Later  on,  Charles  Darwin  brought  out  his  famous 
book  on  the  Formation  of  Vegetable  Mould  Through  the  Action 
of  Earthworms,  which  confirmed  in  a  scientific  way  what  I  had 


already  learned  from  practical  experience.  From  time  immemo- 
rial farmers  and  gardeners  have  recognized  that  plants  and 
vegetables  prosper  in  soil  where  there  are  plenty  of  earthworms, 
but  few  have  given  any  thought  to  why  this  is  true.  In  general, 
people  who  have  worked  with  the  soil  have  simply  accepted 
earthworms  as  one  of  the  inhabitants  of  good  soil,  never  realizing 
that  the  worm  had  anything  to  do  with  the  building  of  the  soil. 

In  my  investigations  I  found  scattered  instances  where 
farmers  who  fertilized  their  land  with  manure  from  neighbor- 
hood stables  attempted  to  transplant  manure-bred  worms  to  their 
fields.  Every  attempt  ultimately  failed,  as  the  transplanted  worms 
did  not  survive.  So  far  as  I  have  been  able  to  learn,  no  sincere 
attempt  was  made  to  discover  why  such  earthworms  perished 
when  moved.  My  own  experiments  and  research  brought  to  light 
the  fact  that  earthworms  are  as  much  in  need  of  the  food  and 
soil  on  which  they  have  been  raised  as  a  fish  is  in  need  of  water. 
Manure-bred  worms  demand  manure;  soil-bred  worms  demand 
soil  and  decaying  vegetable  matter  and  humus. 

My  first  efforts  to  develop  a  satisfactory  hybrid  earthworm 
were  made  in  1927  when  I  was  engaged  in  landscape  artistry. 
Selected  specimens  of  earthworms  found  in  various  sections  of 
the  United  States  were  studied,  bred  and  interbred.  Most  of  my 
observations,  coming  under  practical  conditions,  showed  that  the 
brandling  (commonly  known  as  the  manure  worm)  possessed 
highly  favorable  qualities  which,  if  transmitted  and  retained  by 
a  hybrid,  would  be  very  advantageous.  Chief  among  these  fa- 
vorable qualities  was  the  fact  that  the  brandling  never  deposited 
its  excretions  above  the  surface  of  the  soil.  One  of  the  main 
objections  which  has  been  made  to  the  use  of  earthworms  (in 
fact,  about  the  only  legitimate  objection)  is  the  habit  of  the 
ordinary  native  earthworm  of  building  little  piles  of  lobed  cast- 
ings on  lawns  and  golf  links.  On  lawns  such  piles  of  castings 
are  unsightly,  while  on  golf  links  they  are  such  a  nuisance  that 
in  many  places  the  worms  are  killed  out  by  the  use  of  poisons 
and  mineral  fertilizers.  Golf  requires  perfectly  smooth  surfaces 
for  best  results  and  the  little  hillocks  of  castings  made  by  the 
earthworms  are  often  large  enough  to  divert  the  ball.  In  some 
sections,  particularly  in  England,  the  native  earthworms  produce 
such  mounds  of  castings  that  lawns,  golf  courses,  and  cricket 
grounds  have  to  be  rolled  regularly  in  order  to  keep  the  surface 
smooth  for  good  sport  and  sightliness. 

So  the  quality  of  delivering  its  excretions  under  the  surface 


is  a  most  desirable  one ;  and  a  most  necessary  one  if  earthworms 
are  to  be  used  extensively  in  choice  lawns  and  golf  courses.  A 
second  important  point  in  considering  the  brandling  is  the  fact 
that,  by  leaving  its  castings  under  the  surface  of  the  soil  near 
the  root-zone,  all  the  valuable  elements  of  plant  food  in  the  cast- 
ings are  readily  available  to  the  roots  of  plants  and  vegetables; 
also,  the  thoroughly  humidified  castings,  with  high  ammonia  con- 
tent, are  not  exposed  to  the  air  and  dried  out. 

Another  characteristic  of  the  manure  worm  (brandling)  is 
its  habit  of  living  close  to  the  surface,  seldom  going  deeper  than 
six  inches.  Such  a  burrowing  earthworm  will  cultivate  the  soil 
thoroughly  about  the  upper  roots  of  plants  and  vegetables.  It 
was  my  desire  to  retain  this  valuable  characteristic,  if  possible, 
but  at  the  same  time  secure  a  worm  that  would  burrow  deep  into 
the  soil  and  bring  up  the  subsoil  with  its  rich  chemical  elements 
so  necessary  in  the  renewal  of  the  topsoil. 

My  search  for  a  deep-burrowing  earthworm  to  mate  with  the 
brandling  was  finally  rewarded.  I  examined  the  earth  about  the 
deep  roots  of  large  trees  which  were  being  transplanted  and  dis- 
covered numerous  earthworms  which  evidently  spent  most  of  the 
time  deep  in  the  ground.  Such  worms  have  been  found  as  deep 
as  ten  to  twelve  feet  or  more,  and  very  generally  five  and  six  feet 
deep.  This  worm  was  a  large  species  of  Lumbricus  terrestris 
(orchard  worm,  rainworm,  night  lion,  angleworm,  and  a  number 
of  other  popular  names  in  different  localities),  of  an  average 
length  of  six  to  eight  inches,  but  sometimes  reaching  ten  to  twelve 
inches  in  size,  whereas  the  manure  worm  is  a  medium-sized  worm 
of  an  average  length  of  three  or  four  inches. 

Being  satisfied  that  this  type  of  orchard  worm  would  be  ideal 
for  experimentation,  I  selected  healthy  specimens  of  both  the 
brandling  and  the  orchard  worm  in  the  hope  of  producing  a 
fertile  cross.  These  were  placed  in  a  special  mixture  of  approxi- 
mately one-third  soil,  one-third  vegetable  humus,  and  one-third 
decayed  animal  manure.  Such  a  composition  contains  all  the 
elements  necessary  for  plant  life  and  in  this  instance  contained 
plenty  of  food  suitable  for  both  the  brandling  and  the  orchard 

In  the  course  of  time  examination  of  the  soil  revealed  earth- 
worm capsules,  and  copulation  of  the  earthworms  was  observed. 
I  carefully  gleaned  these  first  capsules  from  the  soil  and  placed 
them  in  a  separate  container.  When  these  were  hatched  and  grew 
to  near  maturity,  the  weaker  and  less  promising  were  culled  out 


and  the  stronger  ones  were  retained  as  breeders.  During  the 
first  six  months  about  one  thousand  hybrids  had  been  selected 
as  breeders  and  were  mating  and  producing  fertile  eggs.  For  a 
period  of  several  years  I  continued  careful  selective  breeding  and 
feeding  until  I  had  developed  a  hybrid  which  breeds  true  to  form 
and  is  perfectly  adapted  for  intensive  propagation  and  use  in 
horticulture  and  agriculture. 

While  the  story  of  my  experiments  appears  very  simple  in 
the  recounting,  it  should  be  stated  that  a  full  five  years  were 
consumed  in  these  experiments.  However,  the  results  obtained 
in  orchards,  nurseries,  gardens,  lawns,  and  poultry  houses  have 
proved  that  this  five  years'  time  spent  was  fully  justified.  To 
summarize  results  for  the  earthworm  culturist,  from  a  practical 
standpoint,  this  domesticated  hybrid  has  many  charcteristics  of 
special  value,  some  of  them  being : 

It  is  a  prolific  breeder,  under  favorable  conditions  producing 
one  egg  capsule  every  seven  days.  A  very  high  percentage  of 
the  capsules  are  fertile  and  they  hatch  out  from  four  to  twenty 
young  worms  each. 

It  is  a  free  animal,  readily  adapting  itself  to  any  food  en- 
vironment or  soil.  Thus  all  the  wastes  of  the  ordinary  family 
can  be  composted  and  used  for  earthworm  food.  It  turns  these 
end-products  into  rich  humus,  practically  odorless  and  contain- 
ing all  the  elements  necessary  for  growing  choice  plants  and 

It  is  not  migratory.  Thus  when  a  breeding  colony  is  es- 
tablished under  a  tree,  in  a  flower  bed,  under  a  rosebush,  or 
elsewhere,  the  home  breeding  center  remains  and  the  worms 
gradually  spread  in  all  directions  in  an  ever-widening  circle,  until 
all  the  surrounding  ground  is  thickly  populated  with  this  prolific 
breeder  and  cultivator  of  the  soil. 

A  point  which  should  be  strongly  emphasized  is  that  this 
hybrid  worm  produces  a  very  fine,  granular  casting  instead  of  a 
lobed  casting.  The  castings  do  not  stick  together,  but  are  de- 
posited as  a  very  evenly  distributed  layer  on  the  surface.  In 
loose,  crumbly  material,  many  of  the  castings  are  deposited  below 
the  surface  in  proximity  to  the  rootlets  where  they  are  needed. 

While  I  was  not  experimenting  particularly  to  produce  fish 
bait,  this  hybrid  is  unexcelled  for  bait.  It  is  very  active,  of  a 
good  red  color,  and  will  remain  alive  on  a  fish-hook  for  a  num- 
ber of  hours  when  properly  impaled. 


It  is  a  medium-sized  worm,  averaging  only  three  to  four 
inches  in  length  when  fully  mature.  This  is  especially  advan- 
tageous in  the  case  of  delicate  flowers  and  fine  seedlings,  as  the 
small  worm  riddles  the  earth  with  its  fine  aerating  tunnels  with- 
out disturbing  the  tiny  rootlets  and  without  drying  out  the  soil 
too  much. 

Such,  in  brief,  is  the  story  of  the  evolution  of  the  "domes- 
ticated earthworm."  I  feel  that  in  writing  your  book  on  Harness- 
ing the  Earthworm  you  are  doing  a  real  and  lasting  service  to 
humanity.  I  look  forward  with  keen  interest  and  anticipation 
to  its  publication. 

Cordially  yours, 



The  question  is  frequently  asked,  "Why  go  to  the  expense 
of  purchasing  domesticated  earthworms,  if  native  earthworms 
do  the  same  work?"  Our  answer  is  that  anything  worth  doing 
is  worth  doing  well.  By  taking  advantage  of  the  experience  of 
those  who  have  spent  years  in  study  and  research,  the  beginner 
can  avoid  many  mistakes  and  much  expensive  labor.  Earthworm 
culture  is  very  much  the  same  as  working  with  other  animals 
or  with  plants.  The  labor  is  the  main  cost  put  into  the  work. 
It  takes  just  as  much  time  to  work  with  scrub  stock  as  with 
thoroughbreds.  It  takes  the  same  amount  of  time  to  grow  a 
seedling  tree  as  to  grow  some  choice  variety  that  has  been  de- 
veloped and  tested. 

While  earthworm  culture  can  be  established  and  developed 
with  the  available  native  worms,  it  pays  to  make  the  start  with 
the  domesticated  variety,  as  they  are  sure  to  be  prolific,  are 
adaptable  to  all  sorts  of  food  and  soil,  and  will  work  the  year 
round  where  the  temperature  is  warm  enough.  The  small  ex- 
pense of  starting  right  is  soon  absorbed  in  the  results  obtained. 
One  friend  wrote  us  that  he  started  with  250  earthworm  egg- 
capsules  and  within  two  years  he  estimated  that  he  had  500,000 


breeders  in  his  culture  bed.  Once  adequate  breeding  stock  has 
been  developed,  earthworm  production  can  be  carried  into  astro- 
nomical figures  very  quickly  by  composting  and  handling  the 
material  properly.  The  life  of  one  man  is  too  short  to  carry 
out  original  research  into  the  subject.  But  this  is  not  necessary, 
as  the  facts  have  already  been  established  through  long  years 
of  experimentation  by  many  different  people.  Darwin's  experi- 
ments and  research  extended  over  a  period  of  more  than  fifty 
years  before  he  published  his  findings.  Since  the  time  of  Dar- 
win, literally  thousands  of  experimenters,  including  scientists, 
laymen,  and  practical  farmers  and  gardeners,  have  verified  the 
facts  which  he  established.  Therefore,  it  is  not  necessary  to 
carry  out  long  experimentation  for  verification  of  the  basic  facts. 
Our  advice  to  those  who  desire  to  make  a  start  in  earth- 
worm culture  is:  Secure  an  adequate  supply  of  domesticated 
earthworm  egg-capsules,  or  a  culture  of  domesticated  earthworms, 
and  go  to  work.  The  technique  of  intensive  propagation  and 
use  is  so  simple  that  a  child  can  understand  and  follow  it.  Ma- 
terials used  in  breeding  earthworms  are  the  same  materials  that 
should  be  incorporated  into  the  soil  anyway  in  building  up  and 
maintaining  a  high  state  of  productive  fertility.  By  utilizing 
these  materials  through  earthworm  culture,  results  are  much  more 
quickly  obtained  and  more  satisfactory  than  by  the  ordinary 
methods.  After  all  is  said,  the  main  expense  in  soil-building  is 
the  time  and  labor  spent.  Once  earthworm  culture  is  established, 
the  small  initial  investment  of  money  in  making  the  right  start  is 
soon  absorbed  in  increased  land  values,  increased  production,  and 
increased  living  satisfaction. 

O     **) 


f-H  V. 


Breeding  Habits  of  the  Earthworm 

EACH  individual  of  the  earthworm  family  is  both  male  and  fe- 
male (hermaphrodite),  having  both  eggs  and  spermatozoa,  but 
it  is  not  self -fertilizing.  An  act  of  copulation  is  necessary  in 
order  that  eggs  may  become  fertile.  Situated  back  from  the 
head  about  one-third  the  length  of  the  worm  is  the  "clitellum," 
a  band  of  tissue  surrounding  the  body.  The  Century  Dic- 
tionary gives  a  very  good  definition  of  the  clitellum.  We  quote 
in  part:  "...  the  saddle  of  an  annelid,  as  the  earthworm;  a 
peculiar  glandular  ring  around  the  body,  resulting  from  the  swell- 
ing and  other  modification  of  certain  segments.  It  is  a  sexual 
organ,  producing  a  tough,  viscid  secretion  by  which  two  worms 
are  bound  together  in  a  kind  of  copulation."  The  clitellum  is 
easily  identified,  as  it  stands  out  above  the  surface  of  the  body 
as  a  distinct  band,  darker  in  color  than  the  rest  of  the  body. 

In  a  bulletin  titled,  The  Earthworms  of  Ohio,  issued  by  the 
Ohio  Biological  Survey,  Dr.  Henry  W.  Olson  gives  a  very  con- 
cise and  clear  description  of  the  act  of  copulation  and  the  repro- 
ductive functions  of  earthworms.  We  quote  in  part  from  this 
description : 

Each  individual  is  a  male  and  female  (hermaphrodite),  so 
anyone  of  the  same  species  will  do  for  a  mate.  Though  having 
both  eggs  and  spermatozoa,  they  are  not  self -fertilizing,  but  mu- 
tually fertilize  each  other's  eggs  . . . 







—  Earthmaster  Farms,  Roscoe,  California 


The  two  worms  meet  and  overlap  one  another  to  about  one- 
third  to  one- fourth  of  their  lengths,  with  the  heads  facing  in 
opposite  directions  and  the  ventral  sides  in  contact.  They  then 
secrete  quantities  of  viscous  mucus,  which  forms  a  thick  band 
about  the  cliteller  regions  of  their  bodies.  These  mucous  bands 
surround  both  bodies  and  serve  to  bind  the  copulating  individuals 
tightly  together.  Each  worm  then  acts  as  a  male,  giving  off  a 
quantity  of  seminal  fluid  that  is  conducted  along  the  grooves 
to  the  seminal  receptacles  of  the  other,  where  it  is  picked  up 
and  stored.  After  the  worms  have  separated,  the  slime  tube 
which  is  formed  by  the  clitellum  of  the  worm  is  worked  forward 
over  the  body,  collecting  albumen  from  the  glands  of  the  ventral 
side.  As  it  passes  over  the  fourteenth  segment,  it  collects  a  few 
eggs  from  the  oviducts  and  then  passes  the  ninth  and  tenth  seg- 
ments, where  it  receives  spermatozoa  from  the  seminal  recepta- 
cles where  they  have  been  stored  up.  The  sperm  then  fertilizes 
the  eggs.  The  slime  tube  is  gradually  slipped  off  over  the  head, 
closing  up  as  though  with  a  draw-string,  as  first  its  anterior  end 
and  then  its  posterior  end  slips  off  over  the  sharp  prostomium. 

This  closed  slime  tube,  with  the  fertilized  eggs  and  nutritive 
fluid  which  it  contains,  constitutes  the  cocoon.  In  this  cocoon 
the  eggs  develop  directly  into  the  young  worms,  which,  when 
ready  to  emerge,  crawl  out  through  one  end  of  the  cocoon  after 
the  slime  plug  has  been  dissolved  away.  The  cocoons  vary  in 
size  and  shape,  according  to  the  species.  The  smallest  are  hardly 
one  millimeter  in  length,  while  the  largest  are  as  large  as  eight 
millimeters  ...  In  Lumbricus  terrestris  (commonly  known  as  the 
orchard  worm,  rainworm,  and  various  other  popular  names), 
the  capsules  are  lemon-shaped,  having  an  olive  color.  The  num- 
ber of  eggs  in  the  capsules  of  Helodrilus  trapezoides  is  from 
three  to  eight ;  in  those  of  Lumbricus  terrestris  it  is  from  four  to 
twenty.  All  of  the  eggs  of  the  Lumbricus  terrestris  become 
fecundated  and  develop;  on  the  other  hand,  in  the  capsules  of 
H.  trapezoides  one  egg  only,  or  rarely  two  or  three,  produce 
embryos . . .  The  embryos  escape  as  small  worms  in  about  two 
to  three  weeks. 

Under  favorable  conditions,  which  means  plenty  of  food, 
moisture,  and  mild  summer  temperature,  the  domesticated  earth- 
worm will  produce  one  of  the  lemon-shaped  egg-capsules  every 
seven  to  ten  days.  The  capsule  (cocoon)  may  contain  from 


two  or  three  to  as  high  as  twenty  fertile  eggs.  In  a  moist,  warm 
environment,  the  incubating  period  is  from  two  to  three  weeks. 

The  newborn  worms  first  appear  as  whitish  bits  of  thread, 
about  one-quarter  inch  long  or  smaller.  They  gradually  become 
darker  within  a  few  hours  and  within  a  few  days  can  be  readily 
identified  as  tiny,  reddish-colored  earthworms.  To  the  untrained 
eye,  the  newborn  worms  are  visible  only  after  a  careful  search 
for  them.  Except  for  size,  they  are  hatched  as  full-fledged  earth- 
worms and  immediately  begin  their  life-work  of  devouring  earth 
with  all  it  contains,  digesting  and  utilizing  the  organic  food 
material  from  the  ingested  earth,  and  finally  depositing  the  residue 
on  or  near  the  surface  as  castings. 

While  the  newborn  worms  are  hard  to  see,  there  is  no  dif- 
ficulty in  identifying  the  egg-capsules.  The  color  is  usually 
radically  different  from  that  of  the  soil,  varying  from  light 
lemon  color  in  freshly  passed  capsules  to  a  dark  purple  in  cap- 
sules nearing  maturity  and  ready  to  hatch.  Size  varies,  depending 
on  the  size  of  the  worm  from  which  they  come,  ranging  from 
the  size  of  a  pin-head  to  about  the  size  of  a  grain  of  rice.  A 
handful  of  earth  from  a  properly  prepared  culture  box  may  con- 
tain several  dozen  capsules. 

While  the  normal  incubating  period  at  right  temperature 
has  been  stated  to  be  from  two  to  three  weeks,  this  period  may 
be  extended  almost  indefinitely  by  drying  out  the  capsules  or  by 
refrigeration.  Under  ordinary  conditions  of  temperature  and 
moisture  as  found  in  the  earth  at  the  time  the  capsules  are 
produced,  they  will  incubate  and  hatch  within  the  normal  period. 
On  the  other  hand,  if  the  capsules  happen  to  be  subjected  to 
the  heat  of  the  sun  and  dry  out,  or  are  dried  purposely  for 
preservation,  they  may  remain  dormant  and  fertile  for  months 
and  then  swell  and  develop  under  proper  temperature  and 
moisture.  Capsules  have  been  reported  to  have  hatched  out  after 
lying  dormant  for  eighteen  months.  Also,  capsules  may  be  placed 
in  refrigeration  at  temperatures  ranging  from  fifty  degrees  and 
lower,  and  thus  kept  dormant  and  fertile  until  they  are  desired 

(called  "egg-capsules") 

Pen  drawing — natural  size 


for  use.  In  frozen  ground  and  manure  piles  and  frozen  compost 
heaps,  as  soon  as  the  spring  thaw  comes  and  the  earth  or  manure 
warms  up,  great  numbers  of  capsules  which  have  been  dormant 
will  hatch  out.  This  stability  of  the  fertile  eggs  under  many 
different  conditions  accounts  for  the  very  wide  distribution  of 
the  earthworm  over  the  earth,  from  the  far  north  to  the  tropics, 
from  sea  level  to  high  altitudes.  Capsules  become  dried  out 
and  are  carried  great  distances  and  scattered  by  the  wind  in  new 
locations.  They  may  stick  to  dry  soil  on  the  hoofs  or  hides  of 
animals  and  be  transported  from  one  place  to  another.  They 
are  sometimes  swallowed  by  birds  and  fail  to  digest  and  are 
then  dropped  in  a  new  location,  perhaps  on  a  high  mountain 
or  on  an  island  of  the  sea,  or  some  other  out-of-the-way  place 
where  it  would  have  been  impossible  for  a  mature  worm  to  find 
its  way.  Earthworm  capsules  are  often  transported  great  dis- 
tances on  the  roots  of  plants  and  start  a  colony  hundreds  or 
thousands  of  miles  from  the  original  location.  On  account  of 
this  stability,  it  is  possible  to  produce  earthworm  egg-capsules 
commercially  and  ship  them  to  any  part  of  the  world,  thus 
enabling  people  anywhere  to  establish  intensive  earthworm  cul- 
ture for  impregnation  of  the  earth  or  for  other  purposes. 

After  hatching,  the  young  worm  develops  rapidly  and  in 
from  sixty  to  ninety  days  will  reach  the  reproductive  stage  and 
may  begin  to  produce  capsules.  This  does  not  mean  that  the 
worm  is  fully  grown  in  this  length  of  time,  but  means  that  the 
reproductive  organs  have  reached  a  point  of  maturity  where  they 
will  begin  to  function.  The  egg-capsules  from  these  young  worms 
may  be  almost  microscopic  in  size  and  difficult  to  find.  It  will 
usually  require  several  months  to  a  year  for  a  domesticated 
earthworm  to  reach  full  mature  size,  averaging  about  four  inches 
in  length.  If  desired  for  use  as  fishbait,  the  older  worms  are 

In  a  favorable  environment  an  earthworm  will  live  for  many 
years.  One  report  was  given  of  an  observation  carried  out  for 
a  period  of  fifteen  years  and  the  worm  under  this  experiment 


appeared  just  as  young  as  ever.  As  a  matter  of  fact,  the  earth- 
worm is  about  as  nearly  perfect  a  digestive  apparatus  as  can  be 
conceived  of  in  the  animal  world.  Its  secretions  take  care  of 
every  form  of  food,  both  acid  and  alkaline — sugars,  starches, 
proteins,  fats.  Equipped  with  a  powerful  gizzard,  it  does  not 
have  to  select  or  chew  the  food.  The  worm  swallows  anything 
small  enough  to  enter  its  mouth,  including  grains  of  sand  and 
small  stones  which  act  as  millstones  in  the  gizzard,  which  grinds 
and  mixes  everything.  It  absorbs  and  assimilates  nutrients  from 
the  swallowed  material.  It  breaths  through  the  skin  and  elimi- 
nates through  the  skin.  So,  barring  accidental  destruction,  earth- 
worms should  enjoy  comparative  immortality  in  the  flesh,  re- 
maining eternally  youthful  through  perfect  assimilation  and  elimi- 

As  earthworms  are  both  male  and  female  in  one  body,  a 
colony  may  be  established  from  one  fertile  earthworm  or  from 
a  single  egg-capsule.  With  a  capsule  being  produced  every  seven 
to  ten  days  and  hatching  from  one  or  two  to  twenty  worms,  it 
can  be  seen  that  production  will  soon  reach  astronomical  figures. 
Those  who  are  particularly  interested  in  mathematics  can  take 
a  pencil  and  paper  and  figure  it  out.  There  is  no  difficulty  or 
problem  in  the  production  of  plenty  of  worms,  even  into  the 
millions,  once  the  simple  technique  is  studied  and  a  start  made. 


Earthworm  Culture 


INTENSIVE  propagation  for  maximum  results  in  soil-building  re- 
quires large  numbers  of  worms,  depending  on  the  amount  of 
land  to  be  used  for  garden,  orchard,  or  farm.  It  should  be 
borne  in  mind  and  emphasized  that  intensive  use  of  earthworms 
bears  about  the  same  relation  to  earthworms  as  found  in  nature 
as  a  power  installation  for  production  of  electricity,  such  as 
Niagara  Falls,  Boulder  Dam,  or  Bonneyville  Dam,  has  to  the 
unharnessed  water  power  flowing  down  a  native  stream.  We 
use  from  one  thousand  to  five  thousand  times  the  concentrations 
of  breeding  earthworms  per  cubic  foot  of  composted  material 
as  would  be  found  in  the  average  natural  environment  with  the 
native  earthworm  population. 

The  small  city  gardener  may  have  only  a  few  square  feet 
of  earth,  or  possibly  just  a  few  potted  plants  or  a  window  box. 
Others  may  have  a  small  kitchen  vegetable  garden  or  flower  gar- 
den. Still  others  may  have  a  market  garden  or  nursery,  and 
so  on  up  to  extensive  acreage  in  orchard,  farm,  or  ranch.  Earth- 
worm culture  may  be  engaged  in  successfully,  whether  it  be  for 
producing  fine  potting  material  for  a  few  plants,  a  small  garden, 
or  for  acreage  of  any  extent.  A  start  may  be  made  in  a  one- 
gallon  can  or  a  small  box,  beginning  with  a  few  earthworm  eggs 
(called  egg-capsules),  or  a  few  worms.  The  technique  is  prac- 
tically the  same,  regardless  of  the  size  of  the  setup. 



In  a  few  words,  the  way  to  begin  earthworm  culture  is  to 
provide  a  culture  medium  of  earthworm  food  in  some  kind  of 
container  or  bed — a  tin  can,  a  small  wooden  box,  a  compost 
heap,  or  a  specially  designed  culture  bed — add  a  few  egg-capsules 
or  worms,  and  keep  the  culture  thoroughly  moist  and  shaded. 
Further  discussion  of  earthworm  food  will  come  later.  We  have 
already  covered  the  subject  of  food  for  worms  in  a  general  man- 
ner. Results  obtained  will,  of  course,  be  commensurate  with 
the  care  and  effort  expended.  Engaging  in  earthworm  culture  is 
very  much  like  starting  in  to  raise  chickens.  One  can  start  with 
a  few  eggs  and  increase  slowly,  or  start  with  a  large  number  of 
eggs  and  increase  rapidly.  For  a  small  yard  or  garden,  a  small 
setup  is  all  that  is  required — one  or  two  cans  or  box  cultures. 
For  a  greater  amount  of  land,  a  proportionately  greater  setup 
should  be  made  as  a  beginning.  As  an  example  of  the  rapidity 
of  increase  which  can  be  made  from  a  small  beginning,  one 
thousand  egg-capsules  were  incubated  and  hatched  out.  From 
this  start  four  lug-box  cultures  (see  illustrations  and  instructions 
on  box  culture)  of  five  hundred  worms  each  were  set  up.  Within 
one  year  from  the  time  this  setup  was  made,  a  total  of  55,000 
egg-capsules  had  been  harvested  from  these  four  boxes.  The 
increase  was  used  to  impregnate  extensive  soil-building  culture 
beds  and  compost  heaps  and  at  the  end  of  the  first  year  vast 
numbers  of  the  soil-builders  were  at  work  and  multiplying  in 
many  tons  of  composted  soil-building  material. 

Once  the  initial  beginning  is  made,  with  a  modest  cash 
investment  of  from  five  dollars  on  up  to  about  twenty-five  dol- 
lars, the  main  money-cost  involved  is  the  small  amount  of  labor 
required  in  taking  care  of  the  cultures.  The  material  which  is 
used  in  providing  soil-building  food  for  the  worms  is  the  same 
material  which  should  be  incorporated  into  the  soil  anyway  in 
building  and  maintaining  the  highest  state  of  fertility. 

Where  too  small  a  beginning  is  made,  one  is  apt  to  become 
discouraged  with  the  slow  progress  made  in  building  up  an 
adequate  number  of  breeding  earthworms  to  show  satisfactory 


results.  Therefore  we  advise  the  beginner  in  earthworm  culture 
to  make  a  sizeable  start.  It  requires  about  as  much  time  to  look 
after  a  single  culture  box  or  bed  as  it  does  to  take  care  of  a 
number  of  Once  the  setup  is  made,  the  main  attention 
for  sixty  to  ninety  days  will  be  to  sprinkle  the  cultures  with 
water  about  once  a  week,  or  often  enough  to  keep  them  moist 
while  the  worms  are  developing. 

In  giving  instructions  for  making  a  beginning  and  proceed- 
ing with  perfect  confidence  in  success,  we  shall  not  discuss  make- 
shift methods.  More  labor,  the  main  consideration,  is  involved 
in  following  makeshift  methods  than  will  be  found  necessary 
in  doing  the  thing  right.  Let  us,  therefore,  proceed  on  the  prin- 
ciple that  "anything  worth  doing  is  worth  doing  well."  We 
wish  to  emphasize  that  the  methods  herein  described  are  not 
arbitrary,  except  for  certain  basic  principles.  In  our  research 
and  experimentation  over  a  period  of  a  good  many  years,  we 
have  invented  or  evolved  methods,  culture  beds,  and  so  on, 
which  have  proved  successful  in  our  own  work,  as  well  as  in  the 
work  of  many  others  who  have  taken  up  earthworm  culture  and 
followed  the  methods  we  have  advised.  We  further  counsel 
every  earthworm  culturist  to  experiment  constantly  and  work  out 
methods  of  his  own.  In  this  way  comes  progress. 

IN      BOXES 

Vegetable  Lug  Boxes 

The  simplest  and  most  practical  method  for  beginning  earth- 
worm culture  is  propagation  in  boxes.  Many  years'  experience 
in  the  intensive  breeding  of  earthworms  for  egg-capsules  produc- 
tion has  demonstrated  that  a  box  of  the  approximate  dimensions 
of  14  inches  wide,  18  inches  long,  and  6  inches  deep  is  the  most 
favorable  size  both  for  convenient  and  easy  handling  as  well  as 
maximum  capsule  production  in  order  to  develop  quickly  and 


maintain  a  steady  supply  of  earthworm  eggs  for  production  of 
breeding  stock  and  for  impregnating  extensive  culture  beds  and 
compost  heaps,  as  well  as  flower  pots,  beds,  lawns,  trees,  shrubs, 
and  soil  in  general. 

We  have  found  that  the  standard  vegetable  lug  box,  which 
has  and  overall  measurement  of  14  inches  wide,  \7l/2  inches  long 
and  6  inches  deep,  answers  all  purposes  for  setting  up  earth- 
worm culture.  Such  boxes  are  usually  obtainable  at  the  grocery 
or  market  at  the  very  reasonable  cost  of  from  three  to  ten  cents 
each.  Lug  boxes  are  light  in  weight,  quite  strong  and  durable, 
and  serve  the  purpose  admirably. 

To  conserve  space,  boxes  may  be  stacked  in  tiers  four  to 
ten  boxes  high.  Tiers  four  or  five  boxes  high  are  most  con- 
venient for  easy  handling.  The  tiers  should  be  supported  above 
floor  or  ground  upon  a  base  about  six  inches  high.  Such  a  base 
support  may  be  made  from  2x6"  timber, .  stood  on  edge  and 
properly  spaced  apart  by  cleats  firmly  nailed  across  the  ends. 
The  illustrated  plan  shows  the  details  of  a  base  support  with 
overall  dimensions  46  inches  long  and  17%  inches  wide,  de- 
signed to  support  three  tiers  of  boxes.  Such  a  base  may  be 
made  any  length  desired,  but  we  have  found  in  practice  that  in 
leveling  the  base  it  is  much  easier  to  adjust  a  short  base  in  a 
perfectly  level  position,  especially  on  uneven  ground,  than  it  is 
to  adjust  a  long  base.  Also,  in  shifting  a  base  from  one  location 
to  another,  the  short,  light  base  is  more  convenient  to  handle. 

The  purpose  of  the  base  support  is  to  provide  ventilation  and 
drainage  and  also  to  prevent  escape  of  the  breeder  worms.  Breed- 
ing boxes  set  flat  upon  the  ground  or  floor  provide  a  cool,  damp 
spot  underneath  the  box  and  the  worms  may  congregate  or  escape 
under  the  box  and  burrow  into  the  ground.  Supported  on  a 
base  above  floor  or  ground,  the  worms  will  remain  in  the  boxes 
where  the  food  and  moisture  are. 

By  the  use  of  separators  between  the  boxes  (see  illustra- 
tions), made  of  2  x  2"  material,  \7l/2  inches  long  and  spaced 
13*4  inches  apart  by  lath  cleats,  the  watering  of  cultures  is 


facilitated.  A  hose  nozzle  or  flat  sprinkler  head  can  be  inserted 
between  the  boxes  without  disturbing  the  tiers  and  the  entire  tier 
can  thus  be  watered  in  one  or  two  minutes.  Once  the  cultures 
are  set  up,  all  the  attention  they  require  between  harvest  times — 
three  or  four  weeks  apart — is  watering  once  or  twice  a  week, 
depending  on  the  weather  and  temperature.  In  hot,  dry  weather 
more  watering  is  required  than  in  cool,  wet  weather.  Cultures 
should  be  kept  thoroughly  moist  at  all  times  for  best  results.  In 
watering,  a  gentle  sprinkler  stream  should  be  used  so  that  the 
surface  of  the  culture  will  not  be  rudely  disturbed  by  the  force 
of  a  hard  stream  or  spray.  We  always  use  a  layer  of  gunny 
sack  material  on  top  of  the  culture  material  in  each  box.  The 
gunny  sack  conserves  moisture  and  prevents  drying  out;  and 
also  acts  as  a  water  spreader,  insuring  even  spread  of  the  water 
and  preventing  disturbance  of  the  culture  material  by  force  of 
the  water. 

Gunny  Sacks 

We  have  found  that  plenty  of  gunny  sacks  are  almost  indis- 
pensable in  earthworm  culture.  Old  potato  sacks,  sugar  sacks, 
feed  sacks — in  fact,  old  tow  sacks  of  any  kind  provide  material 
for  a  multitude  of  purposes.  We  use  them  for  cover  material 
to  protect  the  cultures  from  excessive  heat  and  cold,  for  shade 
in  a  form  of  screens  tacked  on  a  lath  or  other  light  frame- 
work. Their  main  use,  however,  is  as  cover  material  on  the 
surface  of  the  compost  in  all  boxes  and  culture  beds.  Such 
cover  material  conserves  moisture,  keeps  the  surface  of  the  cul- 
ture dark  and  damp,  and  favors  maximum  capsule-production. 
The  worms  will  congregate  in  great  numbers  immediately  be- 
low the  damp  layer  of  burlap  and  this  favors  rapid  breeding. 
We  use  a  heavy  pair  of  tin  snips  for  cutting  the  sacks  into  con- 
venient sizes  for  regular  use.  Ordinary  scissors  may  be  used, 
but  they  are  not  heavy  enough  for  regular  use.  With  tin  snips, 
we  can  cut  several  layers  of  sacking  at  a  time,  thus  speeding  up 




















the  process.  We  have  also  discovered  that  it  is  much  easier  to 
cut  wet  sacks  than  dry  ones.  So  we  usually  soak  a  number  of 
sacks  in  a  tub  of  water  and  cut  them  to  the  proper  dimensions 
for  future  use,  according  to  the  size  of  the  culture  beds  to  be 
covered.  In  large  culture  beds,  we  do  not  cut  the  sacks  at  all. 
For  lug-box  cultures  one  sack  will  provide  for  four  boxes,  the 
edges  of  the  squares  being  folded  over  at  the  sides  and  ends  of 

Preparation  of  Boxes 

Properly  prepared  culture  boxes  will  last  from  two  to  four 
years.  Therefore  an  expenditure  of  time,  plus  a  few  cents  cost 
in  material,  is  fully  justified.  Also  we  have  found  that  there  is 
much  greater  "living  satisfaction"  to  be  derived  from  things  well- 
done  over  that  derived  from  careless  work.  Boxes  of  the  proper 
dimensions  may  be  made,  the  size  not  being  arbitrary  so  long 
as  the  depth  is  kept  at  about  six  inches.  In  intensive  propaga- 
tion for  capsule  production  the  depth  is  important.  Earthworms 
breed  at  the  surface  for  the  most  part ;  so  in  shallow  box  cul- 
tures they  quickly  congregate  on  the  surface  under  the  damp 
burlap  cover. 

If  vegetable  lug  boxes  are  used,  select  good  boxes  without 
large  knot  holes.  For  drainage  bore  six  to  eight  quarter-inch 
holes,  properly  spaced  over  bottom  of  box.  The  cracks  in  bot- 
tom provide  additional  drainage.  Reinforce  bottom  of  box  by 
nailing  a  lath  cleat  across  it  at  each  end,  thus  preventing  the 
thin  boards  from  splitting  off  around  the  nail-heads.  For  each 
box,  cut  ten  pieces  of  plasterer's  lath,  thirteen  inches  long,  to 
be  placed  crosswise  in  bottom  of  box.  This  distributes  the 
weight  of  the  wet  compost  evenly  over  the  bottom  of  box,  provides 
drainage,  and  prevents  sagging  of  the  bottom  boards.  Also  when 
contents  of  box  are  dumped,  the  crosswise  lath  prevents  the  wet 
compost  from  adhering  to  bottom.  The  lath  may  be  used  over 
and  over,  the  same  as  the  box.  For  convenient  handling,  a  small 


strip  of  lath,  six  inches  long,  should  be  tacked  on  each  end  of 
box,  near  upper  edge,  so  that  the  box  can  be  firmly  grasped  in 
lifting.  In  the  illustrations,  we  show  a  photograph  of  a  lug-box 
setup,  with  line-drawings  to  show  the  details  described  above. 
We  suggest  very  careful  study  and  attention  to  details. 

Compost  Mixing 

We  usually  speak  of  earthworm  food  as  "compost."  While 
the  compost  may  be  thoroughly  mixed  in  any  convenient  way, 
on  a  bare  spot  of  ground,  in  a  box  or  other  container,  we  have 
found  a  mixing  box,  similar  to  a  cement-mixing  trough,  a  very 
convenient  and  practical  thing  to  have  on  hand.  Such  a  mix- 
ing box  should  be  about  twelve  inches  deep,  three  feet  wide, 
and  five  to  six  feet  long,  with  smooth  wood  or  metal  bottom 
and  sloping  ends.  A  metal  bottom  supported  by  wood,  is  pre- 
ferred, as  this  makes  a  practically  waterproof  box  and  there  is 
no  waste  of  water  while  mixing  compost.  Three  cubic  feet  of 
material  can  be  conveniently  mixed  in  such  a  box.  Any  surplus 
material  not  used  can  be  stored  in  the  box  and  kept  moist  for 
future  use.  The  rotting  of  the  material  thus  stored  increases 
its  value  as  earthworm  food.  The  compost  can  be  mixed  with 
a  rake,  hoe,  or  shovel,  in  the  same  manner  that  cement  is  mixed. 
It  is  well  to  screen  the  earth  first  in  order  to  remove  small  stones 
or  hard  clods,  using  a  half-inch  mesh  screen,  or  even  as  fine  a 
screen  as  quarter-inch  mesh.  The  sloping  ends  of  the  mixing 
box  facilitate  the  mixing  and  emptying  of  the  box.  Compost  for 
lug  boxes  should  be  very  thoroughly  broken  up  by  chopping, 
raking,  or  screening,  similar  to  the  preparation  of  fine  potting 
material.  The  finer  the  better.  It  should  be  borne  in  mind 
that  earthworms  have  no  teeth  and  that  they  can  swallow  par- 
ticles no  larger  that  the  mouth  opening. 

While  the  preliminary  mixing  should  be  made  with  prac- 
tically dry  material,  it  can  be  lightly  sprinkled  to  lay  the  flying 
dust.  As  the  material  becomes  well  broken  up,  it  should  be 


sprinkled  more  and  more,  so  that  when  it  is  ready  for  use  it 
will  be  a  crumbly  mass,  damp  through  and  through,  but  not 
muddy  or  "soggy"  wet.  Compost  should  not  be  "flooded,"  as 
this  tends  to  "puddle"  the  fine  soil  and  make  a  dense  mass  in- 
stead of  a  crumbly,  loamy  compost.  A  good  plan  is  to  mix  a 
tray  of  compost  as  outlined  and  then  sprinkle  it  daily  for  two 
or  three  days,  turning  it  thoroughly  at  each  sprinkling.  In  this 
way  the  material  will  absorb  the  water  evenly  through  and 
through.  For  lug  box  propagation,  too  much  care  cannot  be 
exercised  in  the  preparation  of  material  for  capsule  production. 

Lug  Box  Compost  Material 

For  lug-box  culture,  a  fine  compost  may  be  prepared  of 
one  part  manure,  one  part  screened  topsoil,  and  one  part 
agricultural  peat  moss.  A  mixture  of  manures  may  be  used. 
However,  we  prefer  a  mixture  of  horse  and  rabbit  manure, 
half-and-half,  finely  broken  up,  or  a  mixture  made  from  rabbit 
manure  only.  In  considering  the  kind  of  manure  to  use,  the 
available  source  of  manure  must  be  taken  into  account.  For 
large  compost  beds,  where  from  a  cubic  yard  to  several  tons 
of  material  is  composted,  all  kinds  of  manure  and  vegetable 
waste,  including  garbage,  can  be  used  to  advantage ;  but  for 
intensive  production  of  capsules  in  lug  boxes,  it  is  highly  de- 
sirable to  have  a  very  fine  compost  of  crumbly  material  that  is 
not  too  disagreeable  or  messy  to  handle  with  the  bare  hands  or 
with  gloves.  In  addition  to  the  material  as  outlined,  we  usually 
work  into  the  compost  a  liberal  sprnikling  of  some  standard, 
all-purpose  chicken  mash  or  corn  meal.  Corn  iheal  has  been 
found  to  favor  the  formation  of  egg-capsules.  If  mash  is  used, 
the  proportion  should  be  about  one-half  to  one  pound  for  each 
cubic  foot  of  finished  compost.  If  corn  meal  is  used,  about 
one-half  pound  for  each  cubic  foot  of  finished  compost  is  suffi- 
cient. The  mash  or  corn  meal  insures  a  ration  of  carbohydrates, 
proteins,  and  fats  for  the  worms,  so  that  they  will  be  well- 


nourished,  regardless  of  the  organic  composition  of  the  composted 
soil-building  material.  Maximum  production  in  box  culture  is 
dependent  on  plenty  of  food.  The  mash  or  corn  meal  should  be 
added  before  the  compost  has  been  wet,  so  that  it  can  be  uni- 
formly distributed  throughout  the  mixture. 

Measuring  and  Quality  of  Materials 

In  preparing  compost  for  box  culture,  we  usually  mix  about 
three  cubic  feet  of  material,  which  is  about  all  the  mixing  box 
will  accommodate.  An  apple  box  is  a  handy  measure,  as  it 
holds  approximately  a  cubic  foot.  It  is  not  necessary  to  bother 
with  too  fine  a  measure,  as  the  proportions  as  outlined  are  ap- 
proximate only.  So  we  take  an  apple  box,  or  other  measure,  of 
manure;  one  box  of  good  loamy  topsoil  and  one  box  of  agricul- 
tural peat  moss,  plus  three  pounds  of  chicken  mash,  or  one  and 
one-half  pounds  of  corn  meal.  The  peat  may  be  soaked  ahead 
of  time,  broken  up,  and  squeezed  out.  It  requires  several  hours' 
time  fully  to  impregnate  peat  with  water.  We  usually  soak  it 
twenty-four  hours  before  mixing  the  compost  and  then  squeeze 
the  surplus  water  out.  Materials  should  be  measured  dry,  as 
they  bulk  up  after  water  is  added.  Peat  moss  is  best  for  lug- 
box  culture,  as  the  idea  is  to  provide  a  compost  that  will  retain 
a  high  water  content  without  being  soggy  or  muddy.  For  large 
compost  beds,  straw,  hay,  leaves,  or  other  vegetable  matter  may 
be  substituted  for  peat.  Lug-box  culture  is  used  particularly  for 
production  of  large  numbers  of  egg-capsules  for  impregnation 
of  more  extensive  compost  beds  and  soil  areas.  Therefore 
greater  care  may  be  taken  and  a  small  additional  expense  in- 
curred. Commercially,  egg-capsules  are  valued  at  one  cent  each, 
the  value  being  based  on  labor  cost  for  production  and  handling. 
We  value  a  lug-box  culture  of  five  hundred  breeder  worms  at 
fifteen  dollars.  However,  in  production  for  use  in  impregnating 
soil,  millions  of  capsules  can  be  propagated  at  practically  no  cost 
other  than  the  cost  of  the  cheap  and  abundant  material  used 


for  earthworm  food.  The  parent  materials  of  topsoil  used  in 
earthworm  culture  are  the  identical  materials  which  should  be 
added  to  the  soil  anyway  to  rebuild  and  maintain  fertile  and 
productive  land.  The  utilization  of  earthworms  in  transform- 
ing the  culture  material  is  the  most  rapid  and  efficient  method 
and  also  produces  better  soil  than  any  other  method. 

Loading  Culture  Boxes  with  Earthworms 

A  layer  of  alfalfa  hay  about  one  inch  deep  should  be  placed 
in  bottom  of  the  culture  box ;  or  two  or  three  thicknesses  of  old 
potato  sack  material  (or  other  gunny  sacking)  can  be  used  in- 
stead of  the  hay.  The  hay  or  burlap  improves  drainage,  pre- 
vents compost  from  adhering  to  bottom  of  box,  and  is  favored 
by  the  earthworms  as  food.  Then  fill  box  about  two-thirds  full 
of  the  prepared  compost.  Five  hundred  breeder  earthworms 
should  be  placed  on  top  of  the  compost.  If  the  worms  have 
been  received  in  a  shipping  container,  they  will  be  mixed  with 
prepared  earthworm  food.  The  entire  contents  of  the  container 
can  be  dumped  into  the  prepared  box,  raked  lightly  over  the 
surface  of  the  compost,  and  may  be  covered  with  a  few  addi- 
tional handfuls  of  compost.  While  the  compost  should  not  be 
packed,  it  is  well  to  smooth  and  "firm"  the  surface  before  adding 
the  worms.  A  handy  tool  for  this  purpose  is  a  plasterer's  metal 
trowel,  or  a  cement  finisher's  wooden  float.  A  triangular  block 
of  wood  will  answer  the  purpose.  The  worms  will  quickly  work 
down  into  the  compost,  making  their  own  burrows.  After  the 
worms  are  added,  cover  the  surface  with  one  or  two  thicknesses 
of  burlap,  which  should  be  well  soaked  before  using.  We  have 
already  discussed  the  uses  of  burlap.  We  usually  cut  an  old 
gunny  sack  into  four  to  eight  pieces^  approximately  the  size  of 
the  top  of  box.  If  the  sacking  is  larger  than  the  box,  the  edges 
may  be  folded  over  inside  the  box.  This  burlap  cover  does  not 
need  to  be  disturbed  until  the  culture  is  ready  for  servicing. 
The  cultures  are  sprinkled  from  time  to  time  through  this  cover- 

Above:  Earthworm  Culture  in  Lug  Boxes. 

Below:  A  Double-handful  of  Domesticated  Earthworms. 


ing,  which  acts  as  a  spreader  for  the  water  and  prevents  the 
water  from  disturbing  the  surface  of  the  culture.  As  the  burlap 
rots  and  disintegrates,  it  becomes  food  for  the  worms  and  a 
fresh  cover  is  added  as  necessary.  Experience  has  proved  that 
such  a  cover  conserves  the  moisture  and  prevents  the  surface 
from  drying  out,  provides  a  dark  surface,  and  favors  capsule 

Impregnating  Culture  Boxes  with  Egg-Capsules 

The  culture  boxes  for  capsules  are  prepared  the  same  as 
for  breeder  worms,  as  described  in  the  preceding  paragraph. 
Spread  two  or  three  hundred  earthworm  egg-capsules  over  the 
surface  of  the  compost  and  cover  with  one  inch  of  additional 
compost.  Cover  with  damp  burlap,  exactly  as  outlined  for 
breeder  worms.  Place  in  a  warm  place  for  incubating  and  hatch- 
ing. A  temperature  of  from  fifty  to  seventy  degrees  in  the  shade 
is  warm  enough.  A  shed,  basement,  or  other  shady  place  can 
be  utilized.  At  the  proper  temperature,  the  eggs  will  incubate 
and  hatch  in  from  fourteen  to  twenty-one  days.  The  newly 
spawned  worms  will  develop  quite  rapidly  in  a  warm  environ- 
ment and  will  reach  the  reproductive  stage  in  from  sixty  to  ninety 
days.  The  culture  should  not  be  disturbed  during  development, 
except  for  the  necessary  watering.  Contents  of  the  culture  box 
should  be  kept  moist  at  all  times.  After  sixty  days,  the  culture 
may  be  examined  to  determine  if  capsules  are  being  produced. 
After  capsule  production  is  started,  the  cultures  are  handled  the 
same  as  the  culture  boxes  of  mature  worms.  A  lug  box  of  com- 
post as  described  above  has  sufficient  food  to  develop  one  to  two 
thousand  worms  from  capsule  to  reproductive  stage.  Thus,  a 
thousand  or  more  egg-capsules  may  be  used  in  a  single  box,  in- 
cubated and  hatched  out  and  developed  over  a  period  of  from 
sixty  to  ninety  days.  Then  the  culture  can  be  divided  into  two 
or  more  boxes.  Through  experience  we  have  found  that  about 
five  hundred  mature  worms  to  a  lug  box  give  the  best  results  in 


capsule  production.  If  there  are  too  many  breeders,  they  may 
slow  down  in  reproduction.  Although  earthworms  begin  to  pro- 
duce capsules  while  they  are  quite  small,  the  fully  mature  worms 
will  be  the  best  breeders  as  a  rule.  Worms  live  to  a  great  age, 
unless  accidentally  destroyed,  provided  they  are  in  a  favorable 

Watering  Culture  Boxes 

If  worms  are  to  multiply  rapidly,  they  must  have  plenty  of 
water.  The  compost  should  be  kept  moist  through  and  through, 
but  not  soggy  wet.  The  boxes  should  be  watered  with  a  sprinkler 
hose,  sprinkling  can,  or  hose  nozzle  once  or  twice  a  week,  accord- 
ing to  what  is  necessary  to  keep  the  cultures  moist.  Proper  state 
of  moisture  must  be  determined  by  inspection  until  experience 
shows  correct  routine  and  time  for  watering.  The  point  of  prime 
importance  is  never  to  allow  the  cultures  to  "dry  out."  Pre- 
liminary to  harvesting  the  increase,  the  culture  boxes  may  be 
allowed  to  become  somewhat  dry  for  a  few  days,  so  that  the  ma- 
terial can  be  handled  without  trouble.  Wet,  muddy  compost  is 
not  so  easily  handled  as  is  a  moist,  crumbly  material.  Many  small 
details  of  production  and  handling  will  be  taught  by  experience — 
in  fact,  that  is  the  only  way  that  they  can  be  learned. 

Harvesting  the  Increase — Proper  Work  Tables 

A  table  twenty-eight  inches  high,  thirty  inches  wide,  of  any 
desired  length,  is  a  convenient  size  for  harvesting  operations.  It 
is  well  to  have  a  railing  on  back  and  ends  of  table,  about  three 
inches  high,  to  prevent  material  from  being  pushed  off  the  table. 
The  table-top  should  be  smooth,  preferably  covered  with  metal, 
and  without  cracks.  Dump  contents  of  a  culture  box  on  table 
and  rake  the  material  into  a  cone-shaped  pile.  The  material 
which  adheres  to  sides  and  bottom  of  box  can  be  carefully 
scraped  out  with  a  small  trowel,  old  caseknife,  putty  knife,  or 


spatula.  Never  use  a  sharp  cutting  tool  in  handling  earth- 
worms. While  they  will  stand  considerable  handling,  they  should 
not  be  cut  or  injured.  If  there  are  a  number  of  boxes  to  be 
serviced,  a  long  table  can  be  used  and  several  boxes  dumped  at 
one  time.  During  the  harvesting,  the  work  table  should  be  in  a 
lighted  place,  either  mild  sunshine  or  under  electric  light.  Worms 
are  very  sensitive  to  light  and  will  quickly  burrow  down  toward 
the  bottom  and  center  of  the  compost  in  trying  to  escape  from 
the  light.  Have  the  same  number  of  culture  boxes  prepared  as 
have  been  dumped.  The  old  boxes  which  have  been  dumped 
should  be  prepared  again,  the  same  as  the  original  culture  boxes. 
The  old  boxes  will  have  the  original  labels  on  them  and  can  be 
used  for  the  breeder  worms  over  and  over. 

After  waiting  a  few  minutes  after  dumping,  to  allow  the 
worms  to  work  down  away  from  the  surface,  start  the  harvest- 
ing operation  by  raking  the  material  from  the  surface  of  the 
cone-shaped  pile.  Proceed  lightly,  with  the  fingers,  so  as  not  to 
injure  the  worms.  An  inch  or  more  of  material  can  usually  be 
removed  at  first;  the  material  removed  contains  the  egg-capsules 
and  is  placed  in  the  new  culture  box;  wait  a  few  minutes,  to 
allow  the  worms  to  work  deeper,  then  repeat  the  operation;  and 
so  on,  until  two-thirds  or  more  of  the  old  culture  material  has 
been  transferred  to  the  new  box.  Any  worms  encountered 
should  be  transferred  back  to  the  old  culture  box.  Experience 
will  soon  teach  how  to  harvest  the  increase  as  rapidly  as  pos- 
sible. In  following  this  routine,  the  breeder  worms  will  be  found 
in  the  one-third  of  the  old  compost  remaining  on  the  table.  Most 
of  the  egg-capsules  will  have  been  transferred  to  the  new  culture 
boxes.  The  harvested  material  will  contain  the  capsules  which 
have  been  produced  during  the  two  or  three  weeks  preceding  the 
harvest.  Also  it  will  contain  a  good  many  young  worms.  We 
sometimes  wait  a  day  or  more,  after  dumping  the  culture  boxes 
on  the  work  table,  before  beginning  the  harvesting.  By  waiting 
a  considerable  length  of  time,  we  shall  find  that  most  of  the 
worms  will  have  worked  down  to  the  bottom  of  the  pile,  and  we 


shall  thus  be  able  quickly  to  transfer  the  top  two-thirds  or  more 
to  the  new  culture  boxes  without  encountering  any  worms  and 
without  further  waiting. 

The  remainder  of  the  old  compost,  with  the  breeder  worms, 
should  now  be  returned  to  the  old  culture  boxes,  the  boxes  rilled 
with  the  new  compost  and  prepared  as  at  the  original  start.  The 
newly  loaded  boxes  with  capsules  should  be  properly  marked 
and  a  new  tier  of  boxes  started.  These  new  cultures  will  re- 
quire from  sixty  to  ninety  days  before  they  are  ready  for  har- 
vesting operations. 

With  mature,  breeding  earthworms,  harvesting  is  carried  out 
every  twenty-one  to  thirty  days.  Incubation  period  of  capsules 
is  fourteen  to  twenty-one  days,  depending  on  moisture,  tempera- 
ture, and  other  conditions.  Therefore,  if  harvesting  is  carried 
out  every  twenty-one  to  thirty  days,  practically  all  the  increase 
in  capsules  will  be  transferred  to  new  culture  boxes,  to  build  up 
additional  breeding  stock. 

Marking  Boxes 

Any  system  of  marking  can  be  followed  by  the  individual 
as  may  suit  his  own  inclination.  We  usually  number  and  date 
the  boxes,  maintaining  two  series  of  numbers.  One  series  of 
numbers  is  for  mature  breeder-earthworms.  The  other  series 
is  for  the  cultures  which  are  developing  from  egg-capsules.  As 
the  new  cultures  reach  the  reproductive  age,  they  are  trans- 
ferred to  the  breeder  series.  In  setting  up  new  breeder  boxes, 
it  is  well  to  actually  count  the  worms,  allowing  five  hundred  to 
six  hundred  per  box.  It  is  impossible  to  recover  all  the  egg- 
capsules  at  harvest  time  and  this  residue  of  capsules  will  hatch 
out  and  develop  with  the  mature  breeders.  In  time,  the  culture 
boxes  will  become  overpopulated.  For  this  reason,  the  breeder 
boxes  should  be  worked  over  from  time  to  time,  and  the  number 
of  worms  reduced  to  from  five  hundred  to  six  hundred  per  box. 
As  previously  stated,  if  a  culture  box  becomes  too  crowded,  the 


worms  will  quit  producing  capsules.  They  tend  to  limit  their 
population  to  correspond  to  the  available  food  present.  We  have 
found  that  we  can  secure  the  maximum  number  of  capsules  from 
boxes  of  between  five  hundred  and  six  hundred  worms  each.  On 
the  other  hand,  while  the  capsules  are  hatching  out  and  develop- 
ing, it  is  all  right  to  have  from  one  thousand  to  two  thousand 
worms  to  the  box.  As  they  reach  the  reproductive  stage,  they 
can  be  separated  and  breeding  cultures  of  the  correct  number 
set  up.  In  marking  boxes,  we  have  found  it  convenient  to  tack 
a  small  square  of  white  cardboard  to  the  end  of  the  box,  leaving 
the  head  of  the  carpet  tack  not  quite  down.  Numbers  can  be 
typed  on  card  before  attaching  to  box,  or  can  be  marked  with 
lead  pencil  or  waterproof  pencil  after  they  are  tacked  in.  New 
cards  can  be  provided  as  the  old  cards  become  ragged.  By  leav- 
ing the  head  of  the  carpet  tack  slightly  protruding,  we  can 
readily  pry  it  out  for  attaching  new  cards  from  time  to  time. 

Building  Large  Compost  Beds 

Once  an  adequate  number  of  lug-box  cultures  of  mature 
breeders  have  been  established,  all  harvested  material  can  be  used 
for  impregnating  large  compost  beds  for  soil-building  and  for 
rapid  propagation  of  vast  numbers  of  earthworms.  Or  the  in- 
crease can  be  used  directly  for  impregnating  potted  plants,  flower 
beds,  lawns,  gardens,  shrubs,  trees,  or  orchards.  For  instance, 
in  orcharding,  a  setup  of  a  hundred  lug  boxes  of  five  hundred 
breeders  each,  properly  handled,  would  produce  enough  increase 
to  impregnate  from  one  hundred  to  three  hundred  trees  per 
month.  In  impregnating  orchards,  or  other  trees  or  shrubs,  the 
harvested,  capsule-bearing  material  is  buried  around  the  trees, 
well  back  from  the  bole,  with  a  cover  of  prepared  compost  as  a 
mulch,  to  conserve  moisture  and  furnish  an  abundance  of  avail- 
able food  for  the  developing  worms.  Once  earthworms  are 
established  in  the  soil,  they  will  take  care  of  themselves.  Where- 
ever  there  is  sufficient  moisture  to  maintain  good  vegetation,  th** 
earthworms  can  survive. 


Rapidity  of  Increase 

Under  favorable  conditions,  which  means  abundant  food 
and  moisture,  with  temperatures  ranging  from  fifty  to  seventy 
or  eighty  degrees  in  the  shade,  earthworms  increase  with  almost 
incredible  rapidity.  Mature  worms  will  produce  an  egg-capsule 
every  seven  to  ten  days.  The  capsules  will  incubate  and  hatch 
in  fourteen  to  twenty-one  days,  each  egg-capsule  producing  from 
one  to  as  high  as  twenty  tiny  worms.  The  newly  hatched  worms 
develop  rapidly  and  in  sixty  to  ninety  days  will  begin  to  pro- 
duce capsules.  We  give  here  a  brief  summary  of  two  reports, 
received  by  the  author,  which  will  indicate  what  can  be  accom- 
plished from  a  small  beginning.  In  our  own  experiments  we 
have  verified  these  results  many  times. 

Report  No.  1 :  From  Son  Bernardino,  California.  An  earth- 
worm culturist  wrote  that  he  started  a  lug-box  culture  on  July 

23,  1939,  with  one  hundred  earthworm  egg-capsules.     The  per- 
tinent part  of  this  man's  letter  follows :  "On  September  24,  just 
two  months  after  I  first  'planted'  the  capsules,  I  dumped  the 
contents  of  the  lug  on  the  sorting  table.     After  carefully  sorting 
over  approximately  two-thirds  of  the  lug's  contents,  I  had  har- 
vested   eight    hundred    egg-capsules    and    approximately    three 
hundred  earthworms.     I  obtained  another  lug  box,  prepared  new 
compost  of  the  same  composition  as  previously  described,  and 
divided  my  crop  into  the  two  lugs.     The  approximate  one-third 
balance  of  the  unsorted  original  compost  was  buried  under  some 
ferns  in  front  of  my  house.     Judging  from  the  number  of  egg- 
capsules  I  recovered,  eight  hundred  by  actual  count,  from  ap- 
proximately two-thirds  of  the  original  compost,  I  believe  it  is 
conservative  to  estimate  that  there  were  at  least  one  thousand 
egg-capsules  in  the  entire  contents  of  the  original  lug.     It  is 
my  plan  to  take  another  census  of  these  two  lugs  on  November 

24,  .and   following  that  count   I  will  inform  you  of   my  find- 
ings . . .  ROY  S.  M." 


Report  No.  2:  From  Kansas  City,  Missouri.  From  a  long 
letter,  giving  many  details  of  his  work  in  earthworm  culture, 
this  Missouri  man  concludes  with  this  summary:  "I  closed  my 
year  October  1.  From  June  4,  1943,  starting  with  1000  capsules, 
till  September  30,  1944,  I  have  produced  55,000  capsules . . . 
H.  A.  H."  This  man  has  used  his  increase  in  establishing  ex- 
tensive soil-building  compost  beds  and  states  that  he  now  has 
vast  quantities  of  the  soil-builders  at  work  in  these  beds,  mul- 
tiplying into  almost  astronomical  numbers,  while  at  the  same 
time  breaking  down  the  material  into  highly  fertile  top-dressing 
for  his  garden  acreage. 

We  have  on  file  many  reports  similar  to  the  above,  fully 
verifying  our  own  findings  over  a  period  of  several  years'  ex- 
perimental research  in  practical  earthworm  culture  and  soil- 

Shade,  Temperature,  Darkness,  Moisture 

For  intensive  capsule  production  in  box  cultures,  tempera- 
tures ranging  from  sixty  to  eighty  degrees  will  be  found  most 
favorable.  Drying  out  quickly  affects  worms  and  will  inhibit 
or  stop  reproduction.  Boxes  should  be  kept  fairly  dark,  as 
earthworms  work  in  darkness.  We  usually  provide  covers  for 
the  tiers  of  boxes,  made  of  old  gunny  sacks,  or  other  cheap  ma- 
terial. Worms  prefer  to  work  near  the  surface  Therefore  we 
keep  the  surface  of  the  culture  covered  with  damp  burlap  as 
previously  outlined,  to  conserve  moisture  and  provide  darkness 
on  surface  of  compost.  Worms  were  originally  water  animals. 
For  intensive  production,  they  still  require  plenty  of  water.  Cul- 
tures should  always  be  moist  through  and  through,  though  not 
soggy  wet.  This  point  cannot  be  too  strongly  emphasized.  Boxes 
should  not  be  flooded.  Good  drainage  should  be  maintained  in 
bottom  of  box,  so  that  surplus  water  will  quickly  drain  out.  If 
cultures  are  maintained  in  outdoor  shade,  the  tiers  should  be 
protected  from  flooding  rains.  Sheds,  outhouses,  basements, 




;>  <w 


2  = 


O  K 

pq  •- 



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t-2    x    6 

1x6  CLEAT 

2x6  1x6  CLEAT-/ 


2    x    6 

SIDE        VIEW 








lathhouses,  tree  shade  or  other  shade  will  prove  satisfactory  for 
earthworm  culture  setups. 

Stacking  Box  Cultures 

Culture  boxes  should  not  be  placed  flat  on  the  ground  or 
other  surface,  for  in  such  cases  the  worms  will  gradually  work 
out  into  the  ground  or  gather  under  the  damp  bottom.  There- 
fore, as  previously  outlined,  a  support  for  the  tiers  of  boxes 
should  be  made  of  2  x  6"  (two  pieces)  material,  stood  on  edge 
13^4  inches  apart,  with  cleats  across  ends  to  hold  them  firmly. 
Any  length  base  support  can  be  provided,  according  to  the  num- 
ber of  tiers  that  are  to  be  placed  on  the  base.  We  favor  a  base 
support  to  accommodate  three  tiers,  as  this  size  support  is  easily 
handled.  The  tiers  are  thus  supported  six  inches  above  the 
ground.  (For  details  of  construction,  see  illustrations  and  line 

Setup  of  Earthworm  Breeding  Boxes 

We  have  given  detailed  drawings  for  box  culture,  with 
descriptive  instructions  elsewhere.  The  illustration  opposite 
page  122  shows  an  actual  photograph  of  two  tiers  of  lug  boxes 
resting  on  base.  Points  to  note  particularly  are :  separators  be- 
tween boxes,  to  allow  insertion  of  hose  sprinkler  head  for  water- 
ing ;  burlap  sacks  resting  between  boxes  on  top  of  separators,  for 
shade  and  conservation  of  moisture ;  structure  of  separator ;  small 
lath  hand-hold  on  ends  of  boxes;  lath  strips  for  placing  cross- 
wise in  bottom  of  boxes ;  structure  of  base  support  for  the  tiers. 
A  convenient  size  base  will  support  three  tiers.  Tiers  may  be 
any  height,  four  to  six  boxes  being  best  for  handling.  While 
the  illustration  shows  tiers  without  cover,  in  actual  use  we  cover 
the  slacks  with  burlap  sacks  to  keep  cultures  dark  and  to  con- 
serve moisture. 

In  a  setup  of  this  kind  we  use  approximately  500  breeders 
to  the  box.  We  Often  harvest  upwards  of  2,000  egg-capsules  per 


month  from  each  box.  We  use  the  increase  for  impregnating 
large  compost  breeding  beds,  flower  beds,  lawns,  or  other  land. 
From  this  it  will  be  seen  that  a  setup  of  from  five  to  ten  cul- 
ture boxes  will  quickly  develop  vast  numbers  of  worms. 


Soil-Building  Culture  Beds 

In  our  methods  for  developing  earthworm  culture,  we  use 
lug-box  setup  for  rapid  production  of  earthworm  eggs,  harvest 
the  eggs  from  the  boxes  once  every  thirty  days,  and  use  the  in- 
crease to  impregnate  large  compost  beds  for  soil-building  and 
for  development  of  vast  numbers  of  earthworms.  In  harvesting 
the  increase  from  the  culture  boxes,  it  is  not  necessary  to  com- 
plete the  work  on  a  particular  date.  The  incubation  period  of 
the  egg-capsules  is  from  fourteen  to  twenty-one  days;  there- 
fore, if  the  harvesting  operations  are  carried  out  every  twenty-one 
to  thirty  days,  practically  all  the  increase  is  recovered. 

We  present  two  designs  for  large  compost  culture  beds — 
the  first  design  illustrated  in  the  four  detailed  drawings  on  the 
next  page  and  the  more  complicated  design  illustrated  by  pic- 
tures and  detailed  construction  plans  of  the  "Earthmaster"  culture 
bed  which  is  shown  in  following  pages.  The  plan  with  posts 
set  in  the  ground  is  the  simplest  and  most  practical  for  the 
average  earthworm  farmer. 

Variation  m  Size 

In  the  knockdown  construction,  the  size  of  the  bed  may  be 
varied  larger  or  smaller  as  desired  by  the  particular  individual, 
to  suit  the  available  space  and  the  extent  of  the  land  to  be 
eventually  impregnated.  The  important .  point  to  note  is  the 
way  the  2  x  4"  posts  are  spaced  to  make  the  interlocking  corners. 
As  will  be  seen  from  the  pictures,  the  bed  is  constructed  of 


2  x  4"  posts  and  1  x  6"  planking.  No  nails  are  used.  The  side 
members  of  the  bed,  beginning  at  bottom,  are  set  in  place  one 
at  a  time,  followed  by  the  end  member,  which  interlocks  between 
to  hold  the  side  member  in  place.  Pressure  of  the  compost  ma- 
teria!  keeps  all  members  in  place.  The  compost  is  built  up  layer 
by  layer. 

Bottom  aiid  Drainage 

In  composting  with  earthworms,  good  drainage  is  of  prime 
importance.  To  accomplish  this,  we  place  on  the  ground  as 
bottom  of  the  bed  a  layer  of  four  to  six  inches  of  coarse  sand 
or  gravel,  evenly  spread,  and  on  top  of  this  we  place  a  layer  of 
1  x  6"  boards,  spaced  apart  about  one-half  to  one  inch.  This 
makes  the  bed  mole  and  gopher  proof.  Also  one  main  purpose 
of  the  bottom  boards  is  to  allow  unloading  of  the  finished  com- 
post with  a  shovel,  without  digging  into  the  sand  layer  which 
is  placed  there  for  permanent  drainage.  In  unloading  the  broken- 
down  compost,  the  end  members  of  this  culture  bed  may  be  pried 
out  one  at  a  time,  thus  exposing  one  open  end  of  the  bed  and 
allowing  the  shoveling  of  the  contents  of  bed  into  wheelbarrow 
or  other  carrying  device  for  distribution  to  flower  beds,  lawn, 
or  other  place  of  final  disposition. 

Depth  of  Bed 

While  the  width  and  length  of  the  bed  may  be  varied,  larger 
or  smaller,  as  desired,  the  depth  should  be  maintained  at  about 
twenty-four  inches.  Earthworms  are  air-breathing  animals 
and  must  have  plenty  of  air  for  best  results.  A  depth  of  about 
two  feet  allows  for  good  aeration  at  all  times.  Also  in  watering 
a  culture  bed  of  this  depth  it  is  not  difficult  to  keep  the  entire 
contents  of  the  bed  thoroughly  moist  from  top  to  bottom.  This 
is  very  important  in  securing  best  results  in  earthworm  culture. 
Originally  earthworms  were  water  animals  and  their  bodies  have 


a  very  high  water  content.  Any  lack  of  water  slows  down  their 
activity  and  reduces  productivity  of  capsules.  Beds  should  not 
be  flooded,  but  contents  should  be  kept  thoroughly  moist  though 
not  "soggy"  wet.  Experience  will  soon  teach  how  to  maintain 
the  best  degree  of  moisture. 

Cover  and  Shade 

In  the  detailed  construction  plan  we  have  not  shown  any 
cover.  A  suitable  cover,  in  easily  removable  sections,  should  be 
provided  to  protect  contents  of  bed  from  flooding  rains  and  to 
provide  shade  and  darkness.  Worms  work  best  in  shade  and 
darkness.  Rain  water  is  very  fine  for  the  worms,  so  long  as 
contents  of  bed  are  not  flooded.  If  a  good  shade  tree  is  con- 
veniently located  the  bed  can  be  placed,  preferably,  on  north 
side  of  tree.  This  keeps  the  culture  bed  as  cool  as  possible  during 
the  hot  summer  months.  Worms  should  not  be  exposed  to  hot 
sunshine  directly.  However,  they  are  the  most  active  when  kept 
at  summer  temperatures  of  from  sixty  to  eighty  degrees.  In 
warm  earth  the  greatest  production  of  capsules  will  be  had. 

Moisture  Conservation 

For  moisture  conservation  and  to  prevent  surface  drying 
out,  we  always  use  on  top  of  the  compost  surface  a  layer  of  old 
tow  sacks  or  burlap.  Old  feed  bags,  potato  sacks,  or  other 
porous  material  can  be  used.  The  bed  can  be  watered  through 
this  cover  material  without  disturbing  the  surface  of  the  compost. 
The  cover  material  acts  as  a  water-break  and  spreader,  so  that, 
in  watering  with  a  hose  or  sprinkler  head,  the  worms  and  sur- 
face of  compost  are  not  disturbed  by  force  of  the  water  stream. 
It  is  always  best  to  use  a  sprinkler  head  on  the  garden  hose,  as 
this  distributes  the  water  to  better  advantage,  without  flooding. 

Garbage  Disposal  and  Waste  Utilization 

All  kitchen  waste  (garbage)  is  perfect  earthworm  food  and 
may  be  disposed  of  as  it  accumulates,  spreading  it  on  the  compost 


layer  by  layer.  We  always  spread  the  garbage  evenly  over  sur- 
face of  bed  and  then  add  a  thin  layer  of  sifted  topsoil  on  top  of 
garbage  to  absorb  odors  and  furnish  a  base  of  soil  for  combining 
with  the  vegetable  and  other  matter.  The  worms  consume  and 
combine  everything,  the  final  product  being  rich,  black  topsoil 
for  potting  or  other  use.  Lawn  clippings,  leaves,  small  prun- 
ings,  all  trimmings  from  the  vegetable  gardens,  such  as  cabbage 
leaves,  lettuce,  or  other  organic  material,  can  be  used  in  the 
compost,  adding  it  layer  by  layer  and  mixing  enough  topsoil 
or  subsoil  to  prevent  heating.  In  composting  with  earthworms, 
it  is  highly  important  to  mix  the  compost  with  enough  earth  so 
that  a  high  degree  of  heat  will  not  be  developed.  This  is  also 
one  of  the  main  reasons  for  keeping  the  culture  bed  shallow  in 
depth.  Deep  piles  of  compost  should  be  avoided,  as  they  may 
develop  intense  heat  in  the  deeper  layers,  enough  to  destroy 
animal  life,  a  fact  that  should  always  be  borne  in  mind.  A 
liberal  amount  of  manure  mixed  into  compost  is  a  very  great 

Intensive  Production  of  Earthworms 

Where  a  rich  compost  is  provided,  a  culture  bed  eight  feet 
long,  four  feet  wide  and  two  feet  deep  will  easily  support  a 
population  of  fifty  thousand  domesticated  earthworms.  Once 
such  a  culture  bed  is  fully  impregnated  and  developed  from 
a  lug-box  setup,  it  is  no  problem  further  to  develop  earthworm 
culture.  In  starting  additional  culture  beds,  or  establishing  large 
compost  beds  in  the  open,  we  simply  take  a  liberal  portion  of 
compost  from  the  old  culture  bed — a  wheelbarrow  load  or  more — 
with  such  worms  and  capsules  as  it  may  contain — and  use  this 
as  a  starter  for  the  new  composting  operation.  This  start  will 
quickly  impregnate  the  new  compost,  and  by  the  time  the  bed 
is  full  there  will  be  an  adequate  worm  population  to  break  it  down 
quickly  into  fertile  topsoil. 

We  wish  to  emphasize  at  this  point  that  we  are  laying  down 
certain  general  principles  for  earthworm  culture.  We  offer 


definite  plans  for  culture  boxes,  culture  beds,  and  so  on.  How- 
ever, each  earthworm  culturist  should  experiment  and  develop 
plans  of  his  own.  Any  kind  of  box,  container,  or  culture  bed 
will  serve,  provided  that  it  has  good  drainage  and  is  kept  shaded 
and  moist.  The  plans  we  have  set  forth  have  been  found, 
through  long  experience,  to  be  good.  By  following  a  successful 
plan  that  has  already  been  tested,  the  beginner  will  avoid  many 
mistakes.  On  the  other  hand,  if  no  experimenting  is  carried  out, 
new  and  better  methods  will  not  be  discovered. 

Detailed  Plan  of  Earthworm  Culture  Bed 

8'  - 

-  o» 

-2  x 

1x6    BOARDS  -rv 

>   7-1x6    BOARDS  SPACED  TO  FIT  PLACED  ON  TOP  OF  FILL    + 


("Knock  Down"  Construction) 

Boards  are  laid  on  top  of  sand  and  gravel  fill.  Makes  bed  mole- 
and  gopher-proof.  Provides  easy  shoveling  surface  for  emptying 
bed,  without  disturbing  sand  till.  Improves  drainage  and  aera- 


This  bed  is  a  most  practical,  all-purpose  culture  bed.  While 
the  depth  should  be  kerjt  at  two  feet,  the  length  and  breadth  may 
bFyaned  to  suit  individual  needs.  We  use  lugbox  culture  for 
rapid  production  of  earthworm  egg-capsules.  We  take  the  in- 
crease and  impregnate  larger  culture  beds,  such  as  illustrated,  for 
soil-building  and  for  development  of  vast  numbers  of  earthworms. 
This  construction  provides  an  excellent  unit  for  household  garbage 
disposal  and  for  general  composting  of  all  kinds  of  organic 
waste — manures,  grass  clippings,  leaves,  etc. 










M  * 

o    . 

^    o 




Partial  End  View  and  Cross  Section 



Corner  and  end  posts  are  set  in  ground  so  as  to  provide  inter- 
locking corners.  No  nails  are  used.  For  easy  emptying,  end 
members  may  be  pried  out  one  at  a  time,  leaving  one  end  open 
for  shoveling. 

Perspective  View 


2X4"  Rrtvood  posts, 
•et  18  inohe*  d»«p 
in  ground* 


The  sand  fill  in  bottom  with  space  between  side  and  end  members 
provides  plenty  of  air,  with  good  drainage,  for  the  air-breathing 


Earthmaster  Earthwonn  Culture  Bed 
For  Intensive  Propagation  of  Domesticated  Earthworms 

(Name,  working  plans,  photographs  and  descriptive 
matter  fully  protected.  All  rights  reserved.  In- 
vented and  designed  by  Thomas  J.  Barrett,  Roscoe, 
California,  as  a  part  of  the  Earthmaster  System. 
Users  may  construct  their  own  beds.) 

THE  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed  is  presented  as  a  complete  basic 
unit  for  conveniently  developing  and  handling  approximately 
10,000  mature  domesticated  earthworms.  In  addition  to  its  prac- 
tical efficiency  may  be  mentioned  simplicity  of  construction,  low 
material  cost,  strength,  durability,  and  accessibility.  With  the 
superstructure  and  cover  (see  photos  No.  10-11-12),  it  may  be 
used  without  any  other  housing.  However,  where  the  bed  can 
be  shaded  under  a  shed,  lath  house,  tree,  or  other  shelter,  the 
superstructure  may  be  left  off  (see  photos  No.  2  —  3). 

The  V-shaped  construction  of  the  compost  compartment 
(see  photos  No.  8  —  9)  embraces  the  basic  principle  of  the  Earth- 
master  Culture  Bed.  It  allows  perfect  aeration  and  drainage, 
both  very  necessary  in  the  successful  propagation  of  the  air- 
breathing  domesticated  earthworms.  On  account  of  the  V-shape, 
when  the  bed  is  watered  the  water  flows  downward  along  the  side 
members,  gradually  becoming  concentrated  in  the  narrow  por- 
tion at  the  bottom.  Then,  through  capillary  attraction,  the 
moisture  rises  through  the  center  toward  the  top.  Thus  the  en- 
tire mass  of  compost  is  kept  uniformly  moist  throughout. 



Years  of  experience  have  abundantly  demonstrated  that  it 
is  much  better  to  maintain  a  battery  of  medium  sized  units 
which  can  be  completely  serviced  in  rotation,  day  by  day,  rather 
than  large  culture  units  which  may  have  to  be  left  partly  serv- 
iced, after  a  day's  work.  For  this  reason,  the  standard  unit 
described  in  this  paper  has  been  adopted  and  advocated  in  the 
Earthmaster  System.  The  complete  unit,  including  cover  and 
superstructure,  stands  36  inches  high  and  36  inches  square. 

The  primary  purpose  of  maintaining  a  culture  bed  is  to  pro- 
vide an  easy  and  convenient  method  for  harvesting  earthworm 
egg-capsules,  for  impregnation  of  additional  culture  beds  for 
breeding  purposes,  or  for  impregnation  of  compost  heaps,  flower 
pots,  lawns,  gardens,  orchards,  or  farms.  Also,  in  intensive 
production  of  domesticated  earthworms,  it  is  well  to  protect  the 
breeders  from  mixing  with  native  earthworms.  With  Earth- 
master  Culture  Beds,  the  pure  cultures  of  domesticated  earth- 
worms may  be  maintained  intact  from  mixing. 



Oregon  pine,  hemlock,  or  other  available  lumber. 

Corner  Posts: 

4  pieces  2  x  4",  36"  long.  Variation:  If  superstructure  is 
not  desired  (see  photo  No.  3),  make  posts  30"  long. 


10  pieces  1  x  6",  36"  long.    2  pieces  1  x  4",  36"  long. 

Bottom  of  Compost  Compartment: 

2  pieces  1  x  6",  33J4"  long,  2  pieces  of  lath,  33j^"  long. 

Removable  Sides  of  Compost  Compartment: 

10  pieces  1  x  6",  20"  long.  2  pieces  1  x  4",  20"  long.  Each 
side  requires  5  pieces  1x6"  plus  1  piece  1  x  4". 


End  Panels: 

10  pieces  1  x  6",  24"  long.    Note:  5  pieces  used  in  each 
end,  spaced  J4"  apart,  with  1  inch  space  between  the  comer 
posts  and  end  members  of  panel. 

Sub-Surface  Divider: 

11  pieces  lath  (ordinary  plasterer's  lath),  33"  long,  with  two 
end  lath  30"  long.  Space  between  lath  about  width  of  lath.     (See 
photos  No.  7  and  No.  9). 

Primary  Cover  (Photo  No.  10): 

A  light  frame,  32J4"  long  by  32"  wide,  made  of  lath  and 
1  x  2"  material  and  covered  with  a  piece  of  gunny  sack  (tow 
sack,  sugar  sack,  burlap  or  other  porous  material).  Note:  When 
cover  is  in  place,  contents  of  bed  may  be  watered  through  the 
cover  with  hose  sprinkler  or  sprinkler  can.  Cover  acts  as  a  water 

Supercover  (Photos  No.  10-11-12): 

A  light  frame  36  x  36"  square,  made  of  1  x  2"  or  other  light 
material,  covered  with  gunny  sack.  In  addition,  four  side  walls 
are  made  by  tacking  an  opened  gunny  sack  (see  photo  No.  12) 
to  each  of  the  four  sides  of  frame,  leaving  one  edge  to  hang 
free.  Thus,  when  not  in  use,  the  side  curtains  may  be  folded 
back  on  top  of  frame  as  in  photo  No.  1.  Or  for  protection 
against  excessive  summer  heat,  or  for  protection  against  cold, 
the  walls  may  be  dropped  down  as  in  photo  No.  12.  For  pro- 
tection against  flooding  rains,  an  extra  cover  should  be  provided, 
made  of  a  frame  covered  with  roofing  paper.  All  covers  should 
be  of  light  construction,  so  that  they  may  be  readily  lifted  off 
when  the  bed  is  serviced,  or  for  other  attention. 

Special  Emphasis 

Study  all  photographs  carefully  for  correct  assembly  and 
nailing.  It  properly  assembled  and  nailed  together,  the  bed  will 
not  become  "wobbly"  or  pull  apart 



Photo  No.  1 

Work  bench,  with  materials  cut  to  dimensions. 

Photo  No.  2.  (View  without  superstructure.) 

End  panels.  Left  shows  inside  of  panel,  base-sill  flush  with 
bottom  of  corner  posts.  Right  shows  outside  of  panel,  top  rail 
30"  above  ground,  bottom  rail  6"  above  ground.  Material  for 
each  panel :  2  corner  posts,  2x4",  30"  long,  3-1  x  6",  36"  long; 
5-1  x  6",  24"  long. (Note:  Photos  No.  2  and  No.  3  show  view 
without  superstructure.  If  superstructure  is  desired,  corner 
posts  will  be  36"  long,  as  in  photo  No.  4.) 

Photo  No.  3.  (View  without  superstructure.) 

Frame  assembled  with  bottom  boards  leaning  against  the 
corner.  Note  lath  strips  tacked  on  each  edge  of  bottom  boards, 
2"  from  edge.  Removable  side- wall  members  abut  against  the 
lath  strips  on  bottom  (see  photo  No.  8).  Note  position  of  frame 
rails — side  top- rails  inside;  end  top- rails  outside.  Note  that  po- 
sition of  base-sills  is  reversed — side-sill  outside;  end  sill  inside. 
Note  that  top  side-rail  is  composed  of  1  x  6"  above,  1  x  4"  below 

Photo  No.  4.  (View  with  superstructure.) 

Frame  showing  corner  posts  projecting  6"  above  top  rails. 
Note  that  bottom  boards  are  centered,  with  ends  supported  on 
the  end  base-sills.  Note  that  side-rails  are  nailed  to  flat  of  cor- 
ner posts ;  end- rails  nailed  to  edge  of  corner  posts. 

Photo  No.  5. 

Compost  compartment  partially  assembled,  with  three  of  the 
removable  sidewall  members  leaning  against  frame.  Note  space 
of  J4"  between  members.  Uniform  spacing  between  members 
is  maintained  by  driving  a  roofing  nail  into  edge  of  each  mem- 
ber, leaving  head  of  nail  projecting  %".  This  spacing  is  for 


aeration  and  to  allow  for  swelling  of  the  wet  wood.  A  one- 
inch  space  is  allowed  between  the  upright  members  of  the  end 
panels  and  the  corner  posts  to  allow  for  nailing  of  top  side- 
rails  on  inside  of  posts  (see  photos  No.  8-9  for  this  detail). 

Photo  No.  6 

Side  view,  showing  compost  compartment  completely  as- 
sembled. See  photos  No.  8-9  for  details  of  inside. 

Photo  No.  7 

View  showing  sub-surface  divider,  33"  x  30".  Space  be- 
tween lath  is  about  the  width  of  a  lath.  When  divider  is  in 
place  (see  photo  No.  9),  the  compost  compartment  is  divided 
into  large  lower  chamber  for  permanent  earthworm  burrows, 
with  a  shallow  upper  space,  six  inches  deep,  which  forms  the 
feeding  ground  and  egg-capsule  "nest." 

Photo  No.  8 

View  looking  down  into  compost  compartment.  Note  the  J4" 
spacing  between  all  members.  Note  removable  side  members, 
with  lower  ends  resting  against  the  lath  strips  on  bottom,  the 
top  ends  resting  against  side-rails  six  inches  below  top  edge. 
When  the  compost  compartment  is  filled,  pressure  of  the  ma- 
terial holds  side-walls  firmly  in  place.  By  inserting  a  "pry"  on 
outside  of  the  compost  compartment,  between  the  side- wall  and 
top  rail,  it  is  a  simple  matter  to  pry  a  member  up  and  release 
the  bottom  end,  removing  the  members  one  at  a  time.  Thus  two 
or  three,  or  all,  of  the  side-wall  members  may  be  removed,  allow- 
ing the  material  in  the  compost  compartment  to  be  conveniently 
removed  from  below.  The  permanent  breeding  compost  is 
changed  two  or  three  times  a  year  and  replaced  by  fresh  ma- 
terial. The  "egg-nest"  material  above  the  sub-surface  divider 
(see  photo  No.  9)  is  worked  over  frequently  in  harvesting  cap- 
sules and  castings. 

Photo  No.  9 

View  showing  sub-surface  divider  in  place,  six  inches  below 


top,  resting  on  upper  ends  of  side-wall  members.  The  chamber 
below  the  divider  is  filled  with  earthworm  culture  compost  and 
forms  the  permanent  burrowing  ground  for  approximately 
10,000  mature  breeding  worms.  Material  of  lower  chamber  is 
changed  two  or  three  times  a  year.  The  space  above  the  divider, 
six  inches  deep,  is  filled  with  well-prepared  culture  compost  and 
forms  the  feeding,  breeding  and  egg-capsule  nest.  The  material 
in  the  egg  nest  is  worked  over  every  two  or  three  weeks,  the 
eggs  harvested,  castings  sifted  out  and  new  material  added.  As 
earthworm  eggs  hatch  in  from  fourteen  to  twenty-one  days  from 
the  time  they  are  produced,  all  increase  is  recovered  by  working 
the  egg  nest  every  two  or  three  weeks.  Capsules  are  used  for 
establishing  additional  breeding  beds,  or  for  impregnating  com- 
post heaps,  or  for  impregnating  the  soil  in  garden,  flower  pots, 
nursery,  orchard,  farm,  etc. 

Photo  No.  10 

View  showing  primary  cover  in  place,  with  supercover  along- 
side. Note  that  primary  cover  is  used  directly  above  compost 
compartment,  resting  on  edges  of  top  rails.  This  cover  is  made 
by  tacking  tow  sack  over  a  light  frame.  Contents  of  bed  may 
be  watered  through  this  cover,  using  sprinkler  hose  or  can. 
Cover  acts  as  a  water  break  and  spreads  water  uniformly  over 
surface  of  bed. 

Photo  No.  11 

View  showing  supercover  in  place,  with  side-walls  folded  on 
top.  This  cover  is  made  by  tacking  an  opened  tow  sack  on  a 
light  frame,  36"  x  36"  square.  Side-walls  are  made  by  tacking 
the  edge  of  an  opened  tow  sack  on  each  of  the  four  sides  of  the 
frame,  leaving  one  edge  of  sack  free  to  hang  down  as  a  side- 
wall,  as  shown  in  photo  No.  12.  Purpose  of  the  supercover  is 
for  extra  shade  and  protection  during  summer  season,  and  as 
protection  against  cold.  Contents  of  bed  may  be  watered 
through  the  top  of  supercover,  same  as  through  the  primary 
cover.  A  light  rain  cover  should  be  made  of  roofing  paper  or 









other  material,  to  protect  contents  of  bed  against  flooding  rains. 
The  supercover  should  be  made  light  so  that  it  can  be  readily 
lifted  off  for  servicing  of  bed. 

Photo  No.  12 

View  showing  supercover,  with  side-walls  lowered.  Worms 
work  best  and  multiply  rapidly  when  kept  moderately  warm. 
An  even  temperature  approaching  summer  heat  is  best.  In  extra 
hot  weather,  the  supercover  as  illustrated  acts  as  a  "desert  cooler," 
when  sprayed  with  water  occasionally.  In  the  advancing  coolness 
of  fall  weather,  the  cover  acts  as  a  wind-break  and  protects  the 
bed  from  excessive  chill.  As  pointed  out  above,  where  other 
shade  is  available,  such  as  a  shed,  lath  house,  garage,  barn,  base- 
ment— or  even  the  north  side  of  a  tree — the  superstructure  may 
be  dispensed  with.  However,  if  the  culture  bed  is  maintained 
in  the  open,  a  rain-cover  should  always  be  provided  to  protect 
the  bed  from  flooding.  It  should  always  be  borne  in  mind  that 
earthworms  work  best  in  the  dark  and  that  plenty  of  shade  is 
essential  to  best  results  in  intensive  propagation. 


In  the  intensive  propagation  and  use  of  domesticated  earth- 
worms, it  is  essential  that  egg-capsule  production  be  maintained 
under  perfect  control,  so  that  an  adequate  score  of  capsules  be 
available  at  all  times.  Therefore,  at  least  one  unit  of  breeders 
should  be  maintained  under  perfect  control,  depending  on  how 
much  land  is  to  be  impregnated.  If  large  acreage  is  to  be  im- 
pregnated, then  a  battery  of  units  will  be  required.  Another  im- 
portant consideration  is  that  of  keeping  the  breeding  strain  of 
domesticated  earthworms  free  from  mixing  with  native  earth- 
worms. Domesticated  earthworms  have  been  produced  through 
selective  feeding  and  breeding  of  native  earthworms  for  cer- 
tain favorable  characteristics  for  intensive  propagation.  In 


the  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed,  the  breeders  are  protected  from 
mixing.  With  one  or  more  Earthmaster  "egg-nests"  for  cap- 
sule production,  large  compost  piles  may  be  impregnated  and 
culture  material  from  such  piles  be  used  for  establishing  nu- 
merous earthworm  colonies  in  lawn,  garden,  orchard  or  fields. 
For  building  up  a  battery  of  Earthmaster  Culture  Beds,  the  en- 
tire increase  from  the  original  unit  may  be  used  and  within  a 
few  months  the  breeding  units  may  be  increased  to  a  point  where 
it  is  possible  to  impregnate  acreage.  For  small  setups,  such  as 
potted  plants,  or  small  yard  or  garden,  a  single  breeding  unit  is 
all  that  is  required. 

HOW     TO     SERVICE     AND     USE     THE 

The  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed  is  designed  to  house  approxi- 
mately 10,000  mature  breeding  earthworms,  for  maximum  pro- 
duction of  egg-capsules  and  for  convenient  harvesting.  In  use, 
the  compost  compartment  (see  photo  No.  8)  is  filled  with  cul- 
ture compost  to  the  top  of  the  side-wall  members,  which  will  be 
within  six  inches  of  the  top  of  bed. 

Mixing  of  Compost 

The  mixing  of  compost  exactly  right  will  come  with  ex- 
perience. The  approximate  composition  of  good  earthworm  cul- 
Jure  compost  is^ne-third  animal  manure/  (horse,  chicken,  ^owt 
_rabbit,  sheep,  or  other  domestic  animal  or  fowl) ;  [one-third. 
vegetable  matterj( grass  clippings,  leaves,  kitchen  refuse,  such  as 
vegetable  trimmings,  coffee  grounds,  tea  leaves,  cooked  or  raw 
leftovers,  etc. — in  short,  garbage)  ;  one- third  good  topsoil,,  well 
sifted.  All  green  stuff  is  especially  desirable  for  capsule  pro- 
duction, such  as  cabbage,  lettuce,  beet  greens,  carrot  greens,  etc. 
If  the  manure  is  fresh,  so  much  the  better,  but  more  topsoil 
should  be  used  in  this  case  to  prevent  heating.  Soil  is  added  to 
absorb  odors,  prevent  heating  and  to  add  "body"  to  the  earth- 


worm  castings.     The  material  may  be  thoroughly  mixed  with  a 
shovel  or  fork. 

Screening  Materials 

The  more  finely  broken  up  the  material,  the  better.  A  feed 
grinder  may  -be  utilized  for  cutting  up  vegetable  matter.  The 
topsoil  should  be  screened  through  a  half-inch  mesh,  or  finer,  to 
remove  small  stones,  hard  clods,  etc.  However,  good  results 
may  be  obtained  by  mixing  the  materials  coarse  and  allowing  the 
earthworms  to  break  it  up.  Production  of  potting  material  is 
greatly  accelerated  by  breaking  up  the  material  in  advance  for 
quick  consumption  by  earthworms.  If  one  has  the  time,  it  pays 
to  prepare  the  compost  in  a  finely  divided  state. 

Wetting  Down  the  Compost 

After  filling  the  compost  compartment,  material  should  be 
thoroughly  wet  down  and  allowed  to  settle.  Keep  adding  ma- 
terial and  wetting  it  down  until  the  compartment  is  Jilled  to 
within  six  inches  of  the  top  with  well-settled  compost;  then  put 
the  sub-surface  divider  in  place  as  shown  in  picture  No.  9. 
Thus  you  will  have  a  space  above  the  divider  about  six  inches 
deep,  with  the  large  mass  of  compost  below  the  divider  to  form 
the  permanent  burrowing  ground  of  the  breeders. 

Purpose  of  the  Sub-Surface  Divider 

The  sub-surface  divider  is  used  so  that,  in  the  process  of 
frequent  egg-harvesting  from  the  material  on  top  of  the  divider, 
the  permanent  burrowing  ground  of  the  earthworms  will  not  be 
disturbed  or  broken  up. 

Impregnating  the  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed 

After  the  sub-surface  divider  is  in  place  (photo  No.  9),  the 
space  above  it  is  filled  with  especially  well-prepared  culture  com- 
post of  the  same  materials  as  that  in  the  lower  chamber,  and 
thoroughly  wet  down  and  allowed  to  drain  and  settle.  After 
settling,  the  material  should  be  at  level  from  one  to  two  inches 
below  the  edge  of  top  rails.  The  entire  bed  should  now  be  moist 


throughout,  but  not  soggy  wet.  In  the  first  wetting  down,  water 
is  used  freely  and  allowed  to  drain  off.  Subsequent  waterings 
are  not  so  generous — just  well  sprinkled  to  keep  contents  moist, 
but  not  "soggy"  wet.  The  prepared  bed,  is  now  impregnated 
with  3,000  Domesticated  Earthworm  Egg-Capsules,  by  burying 
them  in  the  surface  of  the  compost  one  to  two  inches  deep.  Dis- 
tribute the  capsules  over  the  entire  surface,  using  capsules  and 
material  in  which  they  are  packed.  Do  not  try  to  separate  cap- 
sules from  packing  material — just  dump  entire  contents  on  sur- 
face of  the  compost,  lightly  rake  it  over  the  surface  of  bed  and 
then  cover  with  a  layer  of  fine  compost  to  a  depth  of  one  to  two 
inches.  For  conserving  the  moisture  and  keeping  the  surface 
of  the  compost  from  drying  out  too  much,  a  layer  of  wet  tow 
sack  should  be  placed  on  the  surface.  This  should  not  be  re- 
moved during  the  development  period  of  sixty  to  ninety  days. 
The  water  will  soak  right  through  it.  The  primary  and  super- 
cover  (photos  No.  10,  No.  11,  and  No.  12)  are  now  put  in  place. 

Care  of  the  Bed 

Contents  of  bed  should  not  be  disturbed  for  from  sixty  to 
ninety  days  from  date  of  planting  capsules,  except  for  water- 
ing as  often  as  is  necessary  to  keep  it  moist,  or  for  occasional 
inspection  to  determine  the  condition  of  moisture.  In  cool 
weather,  one  good  watering  each  week  is  sufficient.  In  hot  sum- 
mer weather,  a  light  sprinkling  every  day  or  two  may  be  neces- 
sary to  keep  the  surface  from  drying  out,  with  a  good  watering 
once  a  week.  Experience  will  show  how  often  to  water  to  keep 
contents  damp.  The  bed  should  never  be  allowed  to  dry  out. 

Hatching  of  Capsules 

Earthmaster  Domesticated  Earthworm  Egg-Capsules  will 
hatch  out  in  from  fourteen  to  twenty-one  days.  From  one  to  as 
high  as  twenty  worms  per  egg  may  develop.  They  will  probably 
average  three  or  four  worms  per  capsule.  It  is  estimated  that 
from  9,000  to  12,000  worms  will  develop  from  3,000  capsules. 
Earthworms  mature  and  begin  to  breed  in  from  sixty  to  ninety 


days,  according  to  moisture  and  temperature;  thus  production 
is  quickly  established.  Under  favorable  conditions,  domesticated 
earthworms  may  pass  an  egg-capsule  every  seven  to  ten  days,  so 
that  the  increase  is  extremely  rapid.  After  sixty  days  from  im- 
pregnation, the  surface  compost  should  be  examined  to  a  depth 
of  three  or  four  inches  for  capsules.  If  capsules  are  found,  the 
routine  of  harvesting  may  be  started. 


Egg-Capsules  and  Castings 

As  earthworm  egg-capsules  hatch  in  fourteen  to  twenty-one 
days  from  the  time  they  are  deposited,  it  is  evident  that  if  the 
material  in  the  egg-nest  is  removed  or  worked  over  every  two 
to  three  weeks,  the  capsules  which  have  been  deposited  during 
this  period  will  be  recovered.  Earthworms  come  to  the  surface 
to  deposit  their  eggs  and  castings.  They  feed  mainly  near  the 
surface,  especially  at  night,  or  if  the  bed  is  kept  shaded  and 
dark.  For  this  reason,  the  surface  should  be  kept  moist  and 
well-covered.  A  damp  tow  sack_on  the  surface  forms  a  good 
cover  for  darkness  and  dampness.  When  disturbed  by  light  and 
vibration,  or  if  too  hot,  the  worms  will  withdraw  into  their  per- 
manent burrows  deeper  in  the  culture  bed. 

Removing  Contents  of  Egg-nest 

Before  removing  the  material  from  the  nest,  it  should  be 
raked  into  a  cone-shaped  pile  in  the  center  of  the  bed  (covers 
laid  aside)  and  allowed  partly  to  dry  out.  When  disturbed  or 
exposed  to  light,  the  worms  will  rapidly  work  downward  to 
escape  from  the  light  and  drying.  In  a  few  minutes  after  ex- 
posure, an  inch  or  more  of  the  surface  may  be  removed  for 
screening.  Two  small  hand-screen  boxes  should  be  provided, 
one  with  half -inch  screen  to  remove  the  coarser  material  which 
is  to  be  mixed  with  new  compost.  The  finer  material,  contain- 
ing the  eggs,  will  pass  through  the  coarse  screen.  Next,  the  ma- 


terial  from  the  first  screening  is  passed  through  a  quarter-inch 
screen.  The  earthworm  castings  with  the  egg-capsules  will  now 
be  found  in  the  very  fine  screenings.  The  coarser  material  that 
does  not  pass  through  the  quarter-inch  screen  is  remixed  with 
new  compost.  The  harvest  thus  proceeds,  the  material  being  re- 
moved layer  by  layer,  down  to  the  sub-surface  divider.  The 
mature  breeder-worms  will  continue  to  work  downward  and  take 
refuge  in  their  permanent  burrows  below  the  sub-surface  divider. 

Reloading  the  Egg-nest 

Fresh,  fine  compost,  the  same  as  the  original  material,  is 
now  mixed  with  the  screenings  from  the  harvest,  and  the  egg- 
nest  is  filled,  wet  down,  and  covered,  just  as  the  original  bed 
was  prepared.  The  routine  of  harvesting  is  carried  out  every 
two  or  three  weeks.  With  simple  care  as  outlined,  by  using  the 
increase  to  build  additional  culture  beds,  a  battery  of  producing 
units  can  very  quickly  be  built  up  and  thus  a  controlled  produc- 
tion setup  for  impregnating  extensive  ground,  or  for  commercial 
use,  will  be  established. 

Use  of  Egg-Capsules  and  Earthworm  Castings 

The  material  harvested  from  the  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed 
is  composed  of  earthworm  castings,  fine  particles  of  compost,  and 
also  contains  the  egg-capsules.  It  is  not  necessary  to  pick  out 
the  capsules  in  order  to  use  them.  That  is  only  necessary  where 
they  are  to  be  counted  and  sold.  The  harvested  material  is  used 
for  potting  plants,  in  flower  beds,  around  trees,  in  the  yard  or 
garden.  Wherever  a  handful  of  this  material  is  used,  a  nu- 
merous earthworm  colony  is  established,  gradually  to  increase 
and  impregnate  the  earth  in  an  ever-widening  circle  from  the 
original  point  of  impregnation.  Thus,  by  seeding  the  flower  pots, 
flower  beds,  the  earth  around  shrubs  and  trees,  yard  and  gar- 
den, an  adequate  earthworm  population  is  rapidly  built  up  to 
enrich  and  condition  the  earth  for  all  time  to  come. 


Composting  for  Increase 

The  Earthmaster  Breeding  Units  are  maintained  as  a  con- 
trolled supply  of  capsules  from  the  pure  strain  of  domesticated 
earthworms.  But  this  does  not  mean  that  the  culture  beds  are 
the  only  source  for  impregnating  the  earth.  For  extensive  im- 
pregnation of  grounds,  all  household  garbage,  lawn  clippings, 
leaves,  prunings,  etc.,  should  be  carefully  composted  at  some  well- 
shaded  location  and  thoroughly  impregnated  with  earthworm 
egg-capsules.  A  numerous  earthworm  population  will  rapidly 
develop  in  the  compost,  digesting  the  material  quickly  and  turn- 
ing it  into  the  most  choice  topsoil  for  potting  and  other  uses. 
This  composted  material  can  be  used  liberally,  wherever  needed, 
and  earthworm  colonies  will  be  established  wherever  it  is  used. 
By  reserving  part  of  the  compost  for  new  beds,  reseeding  of  the 
compost  is  not  necessary.  Soon  a  very  great  supply  of  earth- 
worms will  be  developed  in  the  composting  operations.  All  gar- 
den books  give  instructions  on  building  compost,  which  is  a  very 
simple  matter. 

For  extensive  acreage,  many  tons  of  compost  should  be 
built  up  and  maintained  as  culture  beds  for  earthworms,  using 
the  material  after  it  has  been  transformed  by  the  earthworms, 
with  all  that  it  contains  of  worms,  capsules,  and  castings,  for 
impregnating  the  earth  wherever  it  is  desired  to  establish  an 
adequate  earthworm  population. 


All  earthworms  are  valuable  as  soil-builders,  as  they  func- 
tion in  the  same  manner.  There  are  hundreds  of  varieties  of 
native  earthworms,  with  varying  characteristics  and  habits.  Some 
are  very  prolific.  Some  multiply  slowly.  Some  varities  feed 
on  a  very  limited  range  of  material.  Others  consume  practically 
everything  in  the  nature  of  animal  and  vegetable  waste.  Some 
are  adjusted  to  a  very  limited  range  of  soil  acidity.  Others  adapt 


themselves  to  a  wide  range  of  soils.  Through  selective  breeding 
and  feeding,  domesticated  earthworms,  adapted  to  intensive 
propagation  and  use,  have  been  developed.  They  are  very  pro- 
lific, adapt  themselves  to  a  wide  range  of  soil  acidity,  thrive  on 
practically  all  the  biological  endproducts  of  life,  both  animal  waste 
as  well  as  all  vegetable  matter,  and  are  much  less  migratory  than 
most  native  earthworms.  When  a  colony  is  established,  they  re- 
main and  spread* slowly  to  the  surrounding  environment. 

In  intensive  earthworm  culture,  we  create  a  favorable  en- 
vironment and  use  domesticated  earthworms  which  have  the 
necessary  characteristics  for  propagation  in  high  concentrations. 
An  ordinary  lug  box,  six  inches  deep  and  about  eighteen  inches 
square,  will  accommodate  500  to  600  breeders.  Under  favor- 
able breeding  conditions,  it  is  estimated  that  one  worm  may 
increase  to  more  than  six  hundred  within  a  year,  starting  from 
a  single  egg-capsule.  After  adequate  culture  beds  have  been 
established,  it  is  a  simple  matter  to  build  up  the  cultures  to  a 
point  where  biological  soil-building  on  a  substantial  scale  is  pos- 
sible. A  single  Earthmaster  Culture  Bed,  impregnated  with 
3,000  Domesticated  Earthworm  Egg-Capsules,  forms  the  founda- 
tion for  a  fascinating  hobby,  or  a  profitable  and  satisfying  home 










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Earthworm  Tillage 

WE  SHALL  define  "earthworm  tillage"  as  a  general  term  cover- 
ing methods  adopted  to  encourage  the  maximum  development 
of  native  earthworm  population  in  the  land.  And  as  a  practical 
part  of  earthworm  tillage  methods,  we  should  include  intensive 
propagation  of  earthworms  for  "seeding"  the  land  with  egg- 
capsules,  not  only  to  accelerate  the  development  of  a  numerous 
worm  population  in  the  shortest  possible  time,  but  also  as  a 
method  for  utilizing  every  possible  organic  waste  material  in 
building  topsoil  to  be  used  as  a  top-dressing  in  garden,  orchard 
and  farm. 

In  our  chapter  on  "My  Grandfather's  Earthworm  Farm," 
the  methods  described  would  be  classed  as  earthworm  tillage.  In 
the  chapter  on  "Orcharding  with  Earthworms,"  we  touched  on 
earthworm  tillage  methods  as  followed  by  Mr.  Hinckley  in  his 
citrus  orchard.  We  should  say  that  Edward  H.  Faulkner's 
book  Plowman's  Folly  is  primarily  an  able  discussion  of  earth- 
worm tillage.  In  fact,  the  remarkable  results  reported  in  that 
book  we  should  attribute  to  the  fauna  of  the  soil,  with  very  great 
emphasis  placed  on  the  earthworm  population.  However,  the 
question  is  not  "to  plow  or  not  to  plow" ;  we  shall  not  enter  that 
controversial  field.  We  advise  every  student  of  earthworm  cul- 
ture to  read  carefully  Plowman's  Folly,  as  well  as  everything 
else  he  can  find  on  organic  methods.  It  is  all  instruction  in 
earthworm  tillage  and  earthworm  culture.  Once  the  basic  prin- 



ciples  are  grasped,  a  new  world  of  possibilities  and  instruction 
is  revealed  for  study  and  experimentation. 

We  also  recommend  as  possibly  the  most  important  book 
on  basic  organic  methods  Sir  Albert  Howard's  An  Agricultural 
Testament.  If  we  were  recommending  one  single  book  from 
all  books  on  the  subject  for  earthworm  students,  we  would  say, 
"read  An  Agricultural  Testament."  However,  once  one  has 
started  on  a  study  of  organic  methods,  as  contrasted  with  the 
strictly  "chemical"  school  of  thought,  one  finds  the  sources  of 
recorded  information  almost  endless,  with  the  soil  itself  as  a 
fascinating  subject  for  practical  experimentation  and  never- 
failing  interest. 

As  an  outstanding  example  of  what  we  mean  by  "earth- 
worm tillage,"  showing  the  tremendous  increase  in  food  produc- 
tion that  may  take  place  through  use  of  such  methods,  we  repro- 
duce an  article  which  appeared  in  the  February,  1945,  issue  of 
Farm  Journal  and  Farmer's  Wife,  under  the  title,  "Earthworms, 
150,000  to  the  Acre."  This  report  on  the  farming  methods  and 
results  obtained  by  Mr.  Christopher  Gallup  is  a  corroboration  of 
the  methods  which  we  described  in  the  chapter  on  "My  Grand- 
father's Earthworm  Farm,"  but  applied  to  a  modern  farm  with 
modern  machinery. 

Incidentally,  we  have  been  in  correspondence  with  Mr.  Gal- 
lup, who  is  an  energetic,  aggressive  student  of  modern  methods 
and  a  successful  farmer.  In  connection  with  the  story  of  his 
farm,  we  quote  a  few  lines  from  a  letter  received  from  him  under 
date  of  April  18,  1945 :  "When  we  used  to  get  70  bushel  baskets 
of  corn  per  acre,  the  borers  just  raised  cain  with  it ;  but  when  our 
yield  had  been  stepped  up  to  196  baskets  per  acre,  the  borers 
practically  dropped  out  of  the  picture."  In  another  letter  from 
Mr.  Gallup  under  date  of  June  3,  1945,  he  remarks:  "Saturday 
we  finished  putting  37  truck  loads  of  hay  into  the  barn  from  two 
fields  that  produced  only  21  truck  loads  last  year.  No  manure 
or  fertilizer  was  used  in  making  the  difference." 


Earthworms:  150,000  to  the  Acre 
By  Williams  Haynes 

(This  article  reproduced  by  permission  of  FARM  JOUKNAL  AND 
FARMER'S  WIFE  and  by  permission  of  WILLIAMS  HAYNES) 

FISHERMEN  each  season  dangle  millions  of  earthworms  in  likely 
waters.  No  other  bait  enjoys  such  popularity  with  anglers.  The 
fish  may,  or  may  not,  hold  similar  views. 

Christopher  Gallup  looks  at  the  earthworm  as  bait  for  big- 
ger crops.  More  earthworms,  he  contends,  mean  higher  fertility. 

In  evidence  he  offers  a  yield  of  196  bushel  baskets  of  ear 
corn,  in  contrast  to  the  80  bushels  his  earlier  methods  produced. 
His  swarming  earthworms  annually  leave  more  than  eight  tons 
of  their  casts  per  acre.  (The  cast  is  the  deposit  after  the  worm 
digests  the  vegetable  and  mineral  material  which  it  eats.) 

Then  Gallup  points  to  the  chemical  analysis  of  these  casts. 
Compared  with  other  topsoil,  they  contain  five  times  as  much  ni- 
trogen, seven  times  as  much  phosphorus,  eleven  times  as  much 
potash,  three  times  as  much  magnesium. 

How  does  one  persuade  the  earthworms  to  multiply?  Feed 
them,  says  Gallup;  feed  them  trash  and  organic  matter.  His 
method  is  to  work  everything  possible  into  the  top  six  inches  of 
soil,  where,  in  the  lower  four  inches,  the  worms  do  most  of  their 

Gallup's  farm  lies  among  stony  hills  of  eastern  Connecticut. 
Two  hundred  and  seventy  years  ago  when  King  Philip  and  his 
Narragansett  braves,  in  1675,  took  to  the  war-path  and  ravaged 
that  corner  of  Connecticut,  a  forebear  of  Christopher  Gallup  al- 
ready had  some  of  the  farm  cleared. 

Fifteen  years  ago,  determined  to  be  successful  as  a  farmer, 
as  he  had  previously  been  in  a  Hartford  insurance  company, 
Gallup  began  operating  the  family's  ancient  homestead. 

Left,  Christopher  Gallup 
and,  below,  his  chief  tool, 
the  Spring -tooth  Harrow 
and  Tractor  with  which  he 
feeds  his  Earthworms. 


He  says,  "I  went  into  our  little  fields  with  a  heavy  plow 
hooked  to  a  20  H.P.  caterpillar  tractor,  determined  to  give  that 
old  land  the  works.  I  plowed  deep.  I  put  on  lime  and  commer- 
cial fertilizer.  I  did  everything  the  experts  advised.  I  firmly 
believed  with  all  its  stones  our  New  England  soil  was  good  soil. 
But  the  best  I  could  get  was  80  bushels  of  corn,  in  spite  of  a  lot 
of  fertilizer  and  hard  work."  Ultimately,  Gallup  hit  on  his 
answer — the  spring-tooth  harrow  plus  earthworms. 

No  one,  Gallup  says,  knows  all  about  earthworms.  They 
eat  and  digest  both  decaying  vegetation  and  soil  itself.  Their 
tunnels  carry  air  and  water  into  the  ground.  Exactly  what  hap- 
pens in  the  gizzards  between  their  suction  mouths  and  the  fertile 
casts  is  yet  to  be  found  out. 

A  scientist's  count  indicates  that  in  Gallup's  best  fields  as 
many  as  150,000  worms  inhabit  each  acre.  A  western  student 
believes  the  worm  population  on  an  acre  could  be  increased  to 
ten  times  that  number,  enough  to  bring  two  and  half  tons  of 
digested  material  to  the  surface  each  twenty- four  hours.  That's 
a  lot  of  plant  food  in  any  language. 

Gallup  figures  that  four  years  are  needed  to  build  up  the 
worm  numbers.  Harrowing  the  trash  in  helps  in  the  first  year 
to  create  their  food  supply.  The  second  year  the  breeding  stock 
begins  to  congregate,  the  third  it  multiplies.  By  the  fourth  the 
worms  are  heaving  up  subsoil  in  quantity. 

"Nowadays,"  he  explains,  "we  get  out  with  the  tooth-harrow 
as  soon  as  the  frost  is  out.  That  is  a  good  three  weeks  earlier 
than  we  could  use  a  plow,  and  a  couple  of  weeks  before  the  land 
could  be  worked  with  a  disc  harrow.  Grass  and  perennial  weeds 
can  then  be  killed  with  surprising  ease." 

Gallup's  cultivating  method  is  to  set  the  teeth  of  the  harrow 
at  the  most  shallow  notch,  and  to  go  over  the  field  several  times. 
Then  he  spreads  his  manure  and  promptly  harrows  it  in.  After 
each  heavy  spring  rain  he  harrows  again,  both  ways,  each  time 
lowering  the  teeth  one  notch. 

Frequently  people  ask,  "What  about  the  trash?    Doesn't  it 


bunch  up?"  "And,"  they  add,  "aren't  your  fields  'dirty,'  and 
isn't  that  litter  an  A-l  incubator  for  pests?" 

Gallup  says  "No"  to  both  questions.  He  is,  in  fact,  strongly 
of  the  view  that  "earthworm  tillage"  keeps  down  the  corn  borers. 

Early  in  the  spring  before  a  bit  of  new  growth  starts,  the 
trash — even  heavy  trash  like  corn  stubble — is  quite  tender  after 
having  been  softened  by  frost  and  snow.  Warm  sun  and  spring 
rains,  and  the  worms,  hurry  its  decay.  Even  at  the  first  har- 
rowing, Gallup  says  the  trash  almost  never  bunches,  and  by  plant- 
ing time  it  has  disappeared. 

When  he  brings  a  piece  of  sod  into  cultivation,  Gallup  cuts 
the  sod  with  a  disc  harrow  late  in  July,  and  rakes  crossways 
with  the  spring-tooth.  Next  he  manures  heavily  and  rakes  in 
lightly  with  the  spring-tooth.  After  five  cultivations,  he  sows 
rye,  and  is  ready  by  spring  for  his  regular  procedure. 

You  notice  at  once  that  he  cultivates  both  in  preparation 
and  in  regular  tillage  more  often  than  usual.  However,  the 
tractor  in  high  speed  can  harrow  five  or  six  times  as  fast  as  plow 
or  cultivator  can  travel. 

While  the  soil  is  still  loose  the  corn  is  drilled  in  rows  with 
a  planter  and  cultivator  with  hiller-discs  that  throw  a  heavy  ridge 
over  the  driled  seed.  This,  he  believes,  gives  extra  moisture  for 
germination.  Four  to  eight  days  later  the  cultivator  with  weeder 
teeth  in  front  breaks  down  the  ridge,  destroying  any  young  weeds. 
When  the  corn  is  a  foot  high  the  hiller-disc  again  throws  back 
the  ridge.  Tractor  cutivation  continues  until  the  corn  is  two  feet 

Gallup  does  not  use  hybrid  seed.  This  spring  he  will  plant 
selected  seed  from  his  1944  crop,  which  will  be  detasseled  for 
growing  seed.  He  will  also  plant  selected  corn  from  his  1943 
crop  for  the  pollen  rows  in  his  seed  plot.  He  thinks  this  avoids 
the  disadvantages  of  inbreeding  and  gives  vigor. 

"Part  of  our  increased  yields/1  says  Gallup,  "is  due  to  this 
kind  of  seed  selection.  But  the  method  of  cultivation  which 
brings  on  more  earthworms  is  mainly  responsible."  Maybe  he 
has  something. 


Technical  Discussion;  Facts,  Figures  and  References 

IN  THIS  book,  so  far,  we  have  purposely  avoided  technical  terms 
and  discussion.  We  set  out  to  create  a  mental  picture  of  the 
importance  of  the  earthworm  in  nature  and  to  point  the  way  to 
harnessing  the  earthworm  in  the  intensive  service  of  man.  In 
our  handling  of  the  subject,  we  have  made  broad  claims  for  the 
value  of  earthworms,  some  of  the  claims  supported,  and  some 
unsupported  except  by  our  own  experimental  findings.  For  those 
who  are  not  informed  fully  on  the  subject,  and  for  those  who 
might  seriously  question  much  of  the  foregoing,  we  are  glad  to 
reproduce  a  highly  valuable  report  recently  released  for  publica- 
tion by  the  Connecticut  Agricultural  Experiment  Station.  In 
this  report  on  "The  Chemical  Composition  of  Earthworm  Casts," 
H.  A.  Lunt  and  H.  G.  M.  Jacobson  have  revealed  in  a  few  well- 
written  pages  the  scientific  basis  of  all  the  claims  made  for  earth- 
worms by  popular  writers,  including  the  author  if  this  book. 
Also,  the  inclusion  of  this  authoritative  report  will  satisfy  the 
technical  and  strictly  scientific  students  who  might  otherwise 
question,  or  even  throw  aside,  this  book  as  not  worth  their  atten- 

In  the  last  paragraph  of  the  Lunt  and  Jacobson  report,  un- 
der the  heading  of  "Discussion,"  we  find  the  statement :  "Whether 
or  not  it  is  practicable  deliberately  to  increase  the  worm  popula- 
tion is  another  question  and  one  which  still  lacks  an  answer." 
We  believe  that  Harnessing  the  Earthworm  is  a  very  definite 



answer  to  this  question,  and  in  the  affirmative ;  although  the  con- 
tents of  this  book,  with  the  instances  and  experiments  cited,  are 
obviously  not  familiar  to  the  writers  of  "The  Chemical  Compo- 
sition of  Earthworm  Casts."  The  same  comment  applies  to  the 
concluding  statement  in  the  "Summary"  by  Doctors  Lunt  and 
Jacobson,  which  reads:  "Conditions  favorable  to  the  worms, 
however,  are  at  the  same  time  favorable  to  plant  growth,  and 
quantitative  measurements  under  field  conditions  of  the  part  the 
worms  play  in  crop  production  have  not  as  yet  been  obtained." 
As  a  further  comment  on  this  last  quotation,  we  may  point  out 
that  the  field  soil  samples  reported  on  in  this  bulletin  were  col- 
lected from  the  farm  of  Mr.  Christopher  M.  Gallup.  We  con- 
sider that  the  experience  of  Mr.  Gallup  in  increasing  his  pro- 
duction of  corn  from  80  bushels  per  acre  to  an  average  of  196 
bushels  per  acre  as  at  least  one  startling  example  of  what  can 
be  accomplished  through  ''earthworm  tillage." 

In  the  following  pages  we  give  the  report  of  Doctors  Lunt 
and  Jacobson  in  its  entirety,  with  the  valuable  list  of  reference 
books  at  the  end  of  the  report. 


Reprinted  from  SOIL  Scixncx 
Vol.  58,  No.  5,  November,  1944 

The  Chemical  Composition  of  Earthworm  Casts1 

H.  A.  Lunt  and  H.  G.  M.  Jacobson2 

Connecticut  Agricultural  Experiment  Station 
Received  for  publication  July  22,    1944 

MANY  years  ago  Gilbert  White,3  and  later,  Darwin  (2)  stressed 
the  value  of  earthworms  to  agriculture,  and  agronomists  and 
foresters  as  well  as  many  practical  farmers  and  gardeners  have 
recognized  the  improvement  in  the  physical  condition  of  the  soil 
brought  about  by  these  inhabitants.  Little  has  been  done,  how- 
ever, to  exploit  the  idea  or  to  "put  the  worms  to  work"  on  any 
extensive  scale  until  recently.  A  number  of  farmers  have  adopted 
what  is  called  "earthworm  tillage"  or  "biodynamic  farming," 
the  terms  not  being  exactly  synonymous  but  referring  to  prac- 
tices which  have  some  features  in  common.  The  reported  suc- 
cesses of  these  farming  methods  have  prompted  the  study  of  the 
properties  of  worm  casts  in  comparison  with  the  soil  mass  as  a 
whole.  No  effort  was  made  to  obtain  quantitative  measurements 
of  the  amount  of  cast  material  thrown  up  in  a  year,  although  a 
rough  estimate  was  made  of  the  quantity  present  on  the  field  at 
the  time  of  sampling. 

1  Contribution  from  the  department  of  soils,  Connecticut  Agricultural 
Experiment  Station,  New  Haven*  Connecticut. 

2  Associate  in  forest  soils  and  associate  agronomist,  respectively. 

3  Russell   (8)   quotes  the  folowing  from  Gilbert  White,  published  in 
1777:  "Worms  seem  to  be  the  great  promoters  of  vegetation,  which  would 
proceed  but  lamely  without  them,  by  boring,  perforating,  and  loosening  the 
soil,  and  rendering  it  pervious  to  rains  and  the  fibers  of  plants,  by  drawing 
straws  and  stalks  of  leaves  and  twigs  into  it ;  and,  most  of  all,  by  throwing 
up  such  infinite  numbers  of  lumps  of  earth  called  worm-casts,  which,  being 
their  excrement,  is  a  fine  manure  for  grain  and  grass ...  the  earth  with- 
out worms  would  soon  become  cold,  hard-bound,  and  void  of  fermentation, 
and  consequently  sterile," 



Although  several  workers  have  investigated  the  activities 
and  the  benefits  of  earthworms,  only  a  few  data  on  the  compo- 
sition of  the  casts  have  been  published.  Darwin  (2)  devoted  a 
whole  book  to  the  subject  of  earthworms  but  did  not  include  any 
such  data.  Hensen(3)  found  that  loss  on  ignition  of  worm 
excrement  lining  the  burrows  was  3.3  to  5  per  cent,  compared 
with  2.3  per  cent  for  the  unworked  soil.  He  also  mentioned  that 
Miiller  reported  24  to  30  per  cent  loss  on  ignition  for  worm  ex- 
crement in  contrast  to  about  8  per  cent  for  soil.  Salisbury  (9) 
found  that  worm  casts  had  a  higher  organic  matter  content  than 
the  soil  in  six  cases  out  of  eight.  He  also  reported  that  the  re- 
action of  the  casts  was  usually  more  nearly  neutral  than  was  that 
of  the  original  soil.  Similar  findings  have  been  reported  by 
Robertson  (7)  and  are  shown  in  the  data  of  Puh  given  below. 
Blanck  and  Giescke  (1)  found  a  marked  increase  in  the  nitrify- 
ing power  of  three  different  soil  types  as  the  result  of  earthworm 
activity.  Earthworm  casts  collected  from  cut-over  land  on  two 
soil  types  had  higher  base-exchange  capacities,  organic  matter, 
and  nitrogen  contents  than  did  the  unworked  soil  mass,  according 
to  Powers  and  Bollen  (5).  They  discovered  that  barley  grown 
in  pots  produced  much  higher  yields  when  earthworms  were 
present  than  when  the  soil  was  free  of  worms. 

Robertson  (7)  has  shown  that  earthworms  secrete  calcium 
carbonate  concretions  in  their  calciferous  glands.  Secretion  can 
take  place  under  acid,  neutral,  or  alkaline  conditions,  provided 
the  worms  have  access  to  material  containing  calcium.  He  points 
out,  however,  that  these  concretions,  which  are  excreted  in  the 
casts,  do  not  affect  the  reaction  of  the  casts  in  the  least;  it  is 
rather  the  secretions  of  the  gut  wall  which  are  responsible  for 
changes  in  the  reaction  of  the  casts.  When  worms  were  kept  on 
filter  paper  or  in  acid  peat,  formation  of  calcite  concretions  ceased 
after  a  week  or  10  days. 


Stockli  (10)  studied  the  effect  of  earthworms  on  the  soil  in 
ten  different  places  including  garden,  meadow,  and  forest  soils. 
He  found  great  variations  in  their  activity  from  place  to  place 
and  from  season  to  season.  Temperature  and  moisture  were  all 
important;  geological  origin  of  the  soil  was  of  no  consequence. 
In  comparison  with  the  undisturbed  soil,  the  casts  and  the  linings 
of  the  tunnels  had,  in  general,  higher  pH  and  loss-on-ignition 
values,  higher  content  of  humus  soluble  in  30  per  cent  EbCb,  and 
higher  bacterial  count. 

Using  a  noncalcareous  loamy  clay,  not  ordinarily  occupied 
by  worms,  with  which  were  mixed  1  part  calcareous  sandy  soil 
to  9  parts  of  the  loamy  clay,  and  finely  cut  leaves  and  stems  of 
Lactuca  sativa,  Puh  (6)  introduced  earthworms.  (Pkeretima  buc- 
culenta)  and  left  them  for  two  months.  At  the  end  of  this  time 
the  casts  covered  virtually  the  whole  surface.  Her  analyses  of 
the  soil  and  of  the  worm  casts  at  the  end  of  this  period  were  as 
follows : 

Parent  Worm 

Soil  Casts 

pH    (noncalcareous  loamy  clay)    6.2  6.8 

pH   (noncalcareous  loamy  clay,  with  calcareous 

sand)    6.4  6.7 

8.5  7.4 

pH   (calcareous  loamy  clays)    7.8  7.5 

8.0  7.2 

Base   capacity  per   100  gm m.e.        21.0 

Exchangeable  calcium  (CaO)  per  100  gm..m.*.        17.8  17.8 

Available    phosphorus    p. p.m.        37.3 

Available  potassium   p. p.m.      193.0  294.0 

Ammonia  nitrogen   p. p.m.        33.0  49.0 

CaO P*r   cent         1.95  2.37 

Total  nitrogen  per  cent         0.054  0.151 

Organic    matter    percent         1.20  1.52 

Lindquist  (4)  reports  that  earthworms  increase  nitrate  pro- 
duction not  only  by  mixing  humus  with  mineral  soil  and  stimu- 
lating bacterial  activity  but  also  through  the  decomposition  of 
their  own  bodies. 



To  obtain  more  complete  data  than  have  been  published  here- 
tofore, to  the  knowledge  of  the  writers,  samples  of  casts  and  of 
the  surrounding  soil  mass  were  collected  in  the  fall  of  1942  from 
both  field  and  forest  and  were  subjected  to  rather  complete  ana- 
lysis.4 The  field  samples  were  obtained  in  a  field  of  sorghum  and 
soybean  stubble  and  young  sweet  clover  on  Earthworm  Tillage 
Farms  No.  1 5,  in  North  Stonington,  Connecticut.  The  "earth- 
worm tillage"  consists  essentially  in  working  the  stubble  and 
other  plant  debris  into  the  upper  4  or  5  inches  of  soil  by  means 
of  disk  and  spring-tooth  harrows,  rather  than  plowing  under  in 
the  conventional  manner.  Everything  possible  is  done  to  supply 
food  for  the  worms  in  order  to  increase  their  number.  The  field, 
of  approximately  4  acres,  was  being  pastured  by  ten  steers  and 
two  milk  cows.  The  soil  is  principally  Hinckley  gravelly  loam, 
and  the  higher  portion  is  classed  as  belonging  to  the  Gloucester 
or  Plymouth  series.  Samples  were  collected  at  5-pace  intervals 
along  six  lines  across  the  field,  and  each  group  of  line  samples 
was  composited  into  one  sample.  In  each  case  three  kinds  of 
material  were  taken;  first,  earthworm  casts;  second,  the  adjoin- 
ing soil  mass  to  a  depth  of  6  inches ;  and  third,  soil  at  the  8- 16- 
inch  level. 

The  forest  soil  samples,  obtained  in  four  separate  areas,  con- 
sisted of  casts;  Al  horizon  (nearby  top  J/£  to  1  inch  of  soil,  not 
casts);  A3  horizon  (lj^  to  8- inch  layer  consisting  of  the  re- 
mainder of  A  and,  in  some  cases,  a  part  of  the  B  horizon)  ;  and 
B,  horizon  (8  to  20  inches,  more  or  less).  Locations  and  descrip- 
tions of  the  areas  are  as  follows : 

I.    Mt  Carmel  State  Park.  Hamden.    Holyoke  stony  fine  sandy 
loam.    Mixed  hard  woods,  principally  oak  with  maple  and  dogwood.  Sam- 

«  Field  samples  were  collected  by  H.  G.  M.  Jacobson  and  E.  J.  Rubins ; 
those  from  forested  areas,  by  H.  A.  Lunt  and  D.  B.  Downs.  Most  of  the 
analyses  were  made  by  Mr.  Rubins. 

5  Property  of  Christopher  M.  Gallup. 


pies  were  taken  at  edge  of  timber  just  in  the  open.  Casts  were  numerous 
and  well  denned.  (In  the  woods,  casts  prevailed,  but  it  would  have  been 
difficult  to  find  unworked  material.) 

II.  Middletown,  private  property.  Southington  stony  fine  sandy  loam. 
Principally  white  oak,  with  black  oak,   hickory,   sugar  maple,   and  other 
species.     Casts  were  so  numerous  it  was  difficult  to  be  sure  of  unworked 
soil.     (Subsequent  analyses,  however,  showed  a  marked  difference  in  proper- 
ties of  the  casts  as  compared  with  the  surrounding  soil  mass.) 

III.  Meshomasic  State  Forest,  Portland.    Hinsdale  stony  fine  sandy 
loam.    Mixed  hardwoods  consisting  principally  of  red  oak,  chestnut  oak, 
white  oak,  dogwood,  and  sugar  maple.    Abundant  casts. 

IV.  Middlefield,  private  property.  Southington  stony  fine  sandy  loam. 
Mixed  hardwoods,  consisting  of  white,   red,  and  chestnut  oaks,  hickory, 
sugar  maple,  dogwood,  sassafras,  and  hemlock.    Casts  were  abundant. 

Quantitative  measurements  of  the  number  of  casts  produced 
throughout  the  year  or  of  the  number  of  earthworms  were  not 
attempted,  nor  was  identification  of  the  worms  as  to  species.  A 
rough  estimate  indicated  that,  at  the  time  of  sampling,  the  casts 
in  the  field  numbered  approximately  three  to  the  square  foot  and 
weighed  2  ounces  apiece,  which  amounted  to  about  129,000  per 
acre  and  a  weight  of  160,000  pounds. 


Data  pertaining  to  the  analyses  of  the  casts  and  soil  from 
the  cultivated  field  are  given  in  table  1.  In  most  cases  agreement 
between  samples  from  several  parts  of  the  field  was  good,  and 
differences  between  horizons  were  considerably  greater  than  were 
differences  between  samples  from  the  same  horizon.  In  nearly  all 
cases  the  casts  showed  higher  values  than  the  0-6  inch  layer, 
which  in  turn  were  higher  than  those  of  the  8-16-inch  depth. 
Greatest  differences  were  found  in  available  phosphorus  and  ex- 
changeable potassium  and  magnesium,  the  increases  in  the  casts 
over  the  surrounding  topsoil  ranging  from  threefold  to  eleven- 
fold. Even  the  nitrogen,  organic  carbon,  and  total  calcium  figures 
are  obviously  highly  significant,  the  differences  being  35  to  50 
per  cent.  The  lower  clay  content  of  the  casts  may  or  may  not 



Properties  of  earthworm  casts  and  of  soil  from  cultivated  field 
Values  given  are  means  of  six  samples*  with  standard  deviations 













Total  nitrogen  percent 







Organic  carbon            per  cent 






0  16 

Carbon  :   nitrogen   







Loss  on  ignition  per  cent 
Nitrate  nitrogen             .p.p.m 







Available   phosphorus 
(Truofir)    .                    t>.t>.m 







Exchangeable  calcium     p.p.m, 
Exchangeable  magnesium 
Exchangeable    Ca:    exchange- 
able Mg  =  X-l   . 








Total  calcium  ,  per  cent 







Total  magnesium    .  .  .per  cent 
Total  Ca:  total  Mg  =  X:l.. 
Exchangeable  Ca  in  per  cent 
of  total  Ca  













Exchangeable  Mg  in  per  cent 
of  total  Mg  







Exchangeable    potassium 
Exchangeable  hydrogen 
m.e.  100  gm. 
Base  capacity  m.e.  100  gm. 
Per  cent  saturation  














oH    . 







Moisture  equivalent,  .per  cent 
Siltt       .  .  .                    Per  cent 



48  3 




Total  colloidst   per  cent 




Clayf   percent 




Fine  clayt  per  cent 




*  Each  sample  was  a  composite  of  individual  samples  collected  at  5-pace  intervals 
on  a  line  across  the  field.     There  were  six  lines,  hence  six  samples. 
t  Composite  samples  from  whole  field. 

be  significant.    The  total  magnesium  contents  of  casts  and  of 
soil  were  virtually  identical. 

In  the  forest  soils  (table  2)  agreement  among  the  four  pro- 
files was  remarkably  close,  and  differences  between  horizons  are 
obviously  highly  significant.  The  higher  contents  of  nitrogen, 


Properties  of  earthworm  casts  and  of  soil  from  forested  areas 



CASTS      Al      A3      Bl 

CAIT«     Al      A3      Bl 

CASTS     Al      A3      Bl 

Toul  N,  %  (WF)» 

Organic  C,  %  (WF) 



0.630   0.382    0.133    0.086 
0.630   0.292   0.106   0.039 
0.717   0.320    0.151    0.071 
0.523    0.314    0.131    0.062 

14.9       6.5       2.0       1.3 
17.4       5.3        1.8       0.6 
16.6       6.8       2.7        1.0 
13.4        5.0       2.1        0.9 

23.8      17.1      14.7      15.7 
27.6      18.0      17.1      15.9 
23.1      21.1      17.5      14.7 
25.7      15.8      16.0      13.7 


0.625    0.327    0.130    0.064 

15.6       5.9       2.1        1.0 

25.1      18.0      16.3      15.0 


Loss  on  ignition,  %  (WF) 

Available  P  (Truog),  % 



5.41      4.75      4.48     4.60 
5.35      4.65      4.55      4.69 
5.00      4.43      4.71      4.82 
5.29      4.66     4.69     4.73 

27.6      13.6        5.8       4.8 
32.4      11.7        3.6        2.9 
30.2      12.6        5.6       3.0 
25.7      11.8        5.3        3.4 

27.4      22.3        7.8        9.4 
19.4       9.1        5.1        3.9 
21.3      20.9       6.8      13.2 
16.1        7.7       3.6        3.3 


5.26     4.62     4.61      4.71 

29.0      12.4        5.1        3.5 

21.1      15.0        5.8       7.5 

Exchangeable  Ca,  p.p.m. 

Exchangeable  Mg,  p.p.m. 

Exch.  Ca:  exch.  Mg  — 


4,280    1,183         95         111 
5,300      844       151         200 
3,272      224        51           46 
2,900       738       323         325 

328       109        27        26 
511       153        24        69 
354        69         15         12 
480      227       105       127 

13.0      10.8        3.5       4.3 
10.4        5.5        6.3        2.9 
9.2       3.2        3.4       3.8 
6.0        3.3        3.1      2.6 


3,938       747       155        171 

418      140        43        59 

i».6        5.7       4.1        3.4 

Total  Ca,  %  (WF) 

Total  Mg,  %  (WF) 

Total  Ca:  total  Mg  — 


1.00     0.94     0.62     0.59 
1.05      0.58      0.51      0.47 
1.40      1.46      1.36      1.21 
0.78     0.42      0.48      0.4S 

0.378    0.648    0.614    0.580 
0.591    0.691    0.530    0.555 
0.592    0.643    0.564    0.580 
0.534    0.661    0.685     0.582 

2.64      1.45      1.01      1.02 
1.78     0.84     0.96     0.85 
2.36      2.27     2.41      2.09 
1.46     0.63     0.70     0.77 


1.06     0.85     0.74     0.68 

0.524    0.661    0.598    0.574 

2.06      1.30      1.27      1.18 

Exch.  Ca  in  %  of  total  Ca 

Exch.  Mg  in  %  of 

Exchangeable  K,  p.  p.  SB 

total  Mg 



42.8     12.6       1.5       1.9 
50.S      14.5       3.0       2.3 
23.4       1.S       0.4       ).4 
37.2     17.6       6.7       ?J 

8.68     1.68     0.44     0.45 
8.65     2.21      0.45      1.24 
5.98     1.07     0.27     0.21 
8.98     3.43      1.53     2.18 

293      217        35        35 
217      151        19        12 
247      115        43        25 
168        69        30        30 


38.5     11.5       2.9       2.9 

8.07     2.10     0.67     1.02 

231      138        32        25 


TABLE  2— Continued 



Al      A3 
















Exch.  H,  m.  e. 
100  gm. 


Base  capacity,  m.e. 
100  gm. 


%  Saturation 


9.5        6.6 
9.4        5.6 
13.0       6.6 
9.3        5.7 












10.3        6.1 









Moisture  equivalent,  % 

Total  colloids,  % 



27.4      19.9 
31.2      18.5 
26.8      18.1 
35.1      24.4 











30.1      20.2 










*WF  valves  are  on  a  water-free  basis. 

organic  carbon,  and  exchangeable  calcium  in  the  casts  were  even 
more  pronounced  here  than  they  were  in  the  field  soil,  particu- 
larly when  the  A^  horizon  is  considered.  The  AI  and  A3  together 
correspond  roughly  to  the  0-6-inch  layer  of  the  cultivated  soil. 
On  the  other  hand  differences  in  available  phosphorus  and  ex- 
changeable potassium  and  magnesium  were  distinctly  smaller  than 
in  the  field  soil.  Total  magnesium  content  was  actually  lower  in 
the  casts  than  in  Ax.  There  was  no  essential  difference  in 
either  the  total  colloids  or  the  clay  content  of  the  casts  as  com- 
pared with  the  AI  horizon,  but  both  were  considerably  lower  in 
the  A3. 

In  comparison  with  the  cultivated  soil,  the  forest  soil  casts 
were  much  higher  in  nitrogen,  carbon,  exchangeable  calcium,  and 
moisture-equivalent  values.  The  higher  proportion  of  exchange- 
able calcium  to  exchangeable  magnesium  in  the  upper  horizon  of 
the  field  soil  was  not  observed  in  the  forest  soil,  nor  was  there 
any  such  relation  between  total  calcium  and  total  magnesium  in 


either  soil.  The  proportion  of  calcium  that  was  in  exchangeable 
form  was  about  the  same  in  the  casts  as  it  was  in  the  AI  horizon 
in  the  field  soil,  but  in  the  forest  soil  the  proportion  in  the  casts 
was  distinctly  higher  than  in  the  A  horizons.  The  proportion 
of  magnesium  that  was  exchangeable  was  definitely  higher  in 
the  casts  in  both  soils. 

In  all  cases  the  pH  of  the  casts  was  higher  than  in  the 
parent  soil.  Nitrate  nitrogen  was  not  determined  on  the  forest 
soils.  Lime  applied  sometime  in  the  past  to  the  cultivated  soil 
had  raised  the  pH,  total  calcium,  and,  with  one  exception,  the 
exchangeable  calcium  content  of  all  horizons  considerably  above 
the  corresponding  values  found  in  the  forest  soils. 


Soil  in  which  earthworms  are  active  is  invariably  in  better 
physical  condition  than  is  similar  soil  without  earthworms. 
Though  it  is  the  opinion  of  some  that  the  worms  are  present  be- 
cause of  the  favorable  soil  conditions,  there  is  sufficient  evidence 
(1,  3,  8,  10)  to  indicate  that  earthworms  do  very  definitely  im- 
prove soil  structure  by  increasing  aggregate  content  and  porosity, 
thus  facilitating  aeration,  water  absorption,  root  penetration,  and 
drainage.  Stockli  (10)  reported  that  casts  contained  no  par- 
ticles larger  than  2  mm.  in  diameter  and  that  in  some  cases  par- 
ticle size  was  reduced  by  means  of  a  rubbing  action  inside  the 
digestive  tract  of  the  worm.  Mechanical  analyses  of  our  samples 
showed  no  essential  differences  in  the  texture  of  casts  and  topsoil. 

From  the  biological  standpoint,  casts  have  been  found  to 
contain  a  much  larger  bacterial  population  than  the  unworked 
soil  (10). 

The  data  on  chemical  properties  herein  reported  confirm 
those  published  by  Powers  and  Bollen  (5)  and  by  Puh  (6),  with 
one  notable  difference  in  Puh's  work.  She  found  the  casts  to  be 
markedly  higher  in  total  calcium  but  not  in  exchangeable  cal- 
cium. No  explanation  for  this  difference  was  given. 


Only  a  cursory  examination  of  the  data  is  needed  to  show 
the  higher  fertility  status  of  the  casts.  What  is  the  explanation  ? 
Is  it  due  to  substances  brought  up  from  the  subsoil,  or  can  it 
be  attributed  to  direct  action  of  the  worms  on  the  soil  material? 
To  answer  these  questions,  it  is  necessary  to  examine  the  habits 
of  earthworms.  They  make  their  tunnels,  in  part,  by  pushing 
the  earth  away  on  all  sides,  but  mostly  by  swallowing  it  and 
depositing  the  excrement  at  the  surface.  In  dry  or  cold  weather 
they  retire  to  considerable  depth — 4  to  6  and  even  8  feet.  In 
favorable  weather  they  are  active  in  the  top  6  or  8  inches  of  soil. 
Their  food  consists  of  plant  and  animal  remains  on  the  surface 
and  in  the  upper  layers  of  the  soil;  and  apparently  some  nutri- 
ment is  obtained  from  the  soil  itself.  In  the  light  of  these  facts 
it  is  interesting  to  speculate  as  to  what  would  happen  in  an  in- 
verted profile,  i.e.,  with  the  A  and  C  horizons  reversed.  The 
fact  that  worm  casts  are  less  acid  (or  less  alkaline  in  alkaline 
soils)  than  the  soil  even  where  the  worms  are  confined  to  the 
surface  soil  (6,  9),  shows  that  the  change  in  reaction  is  not  de- 
pendent upon  the  transporting  of  less  acid  (or  less  alkaline) 
subsoil  to  the  surface.  Burrowing  in  the  subsoil  is  done  only  to 
provide  living  quarters  during  unfavorable  weather.  It  would 
appear,  therefore,  that  the  amount  of  subsoil  carried  to  the  sur- 
face is  relatively  small.  If  the  subsoil  is  calcareous,  the  amount 
of  such  material  brought  to  the  surface  might,  over  a  long  period 
of  time,  be  sufficient  to  increase  the  calcium  (and  perhaps  mag- 
nesium) content  of  the  surface  soil.  Likewise,  if  the  subsoil  con- 
tained a  higher  concentration  of  any  other  material,  it  might 
influence  the  composition  of  the  surface  soil. 

The  main  benefit,  chemically  (and  biologically),  of  earth- 
worm activity  is  the  digestion  of  plant  material  and  its  intimate 
mixing  with  mineral  soil.  The  concentration  of  the  principal 
plant-food  elements  (except  K)  in  the  plant  is  considerably 
higher  than  it  is  in  the  soil.  For  example,  in  southern  New  Eng- 
land, forest  tree  leaves  contain  in  the  neighborhood  of  0.5  to 
2.5  per  cent  N,  0.1  to  0.5  per  cent  P,  0.6  to  2.0  per  cent  K,  and 


1  to  4  per  cent  Ca ;  whereas  the  amount  in  the  soil  averages  about 
0.2,  0.8,  1.5,  and  0.5  per  cent  respectively,  only  a  fraction  of 
which  is  available  to  the  plant.  Both  the  mechanical  mixing  and 
the  action  of  digestive  secretions  favor  the  decomposition  of  the 
organic  matter  and  of  soil  minerals.  The  resultant  product  con- 
tains a  lower  concentration  of  plant- food  than  the  plant  residues 
but  a  higher  concentration  than  the  soil.  The  process  may  be 
likened  to  the  consumption  of  grass,  hay,  and  grains  by  cattle 
and  the  subsequent  return  of  the  manure  to  the  soil, — with  this 
difference,  however,  The  cattle  (or  the  milk  from  cows)  are 
sold  from  the  farm,  resulting  in  net  loss  to  the  soil  of  a  certain 
amount  of  plant- food.  Also,  some  losses  occur  in  the  manure 
before  it  is  incorporated  with  the  soil.  The  earthworm,  on  the 
other  hand,  dies  in  the  soil  and  its  decomposed  body  returns  plant- 
food  to  the  soil  without  loss.  It  has  been  found  that  the  increased 
nitrification  that  takes  place  when  earthworms  are  introduced 
into  the  soil  is  due,  in  part  at  least,  to  the  decomposition  of  their 
own  bodies  (6,  8).  Russell  (8)  reported  the  nitrogen  content  of 
worms  to  be  1.5  to  2.0  per  cent  or  about  10  mgm.  of  N  per  worm. 
That  yields  may  be  increased  by  the  presence  of  earthworms 
has  been  demonstrated  in  pot  culture  studies  (5,  8).  On  a  field 
scale,  however,  no  accurate  quantitative  comparisons  have  been 
made,  to  the  knowledge  of  the  writers.  Inasmuch  as  any  practice 
that  favors  earthworm  activity  is  also  favorable  to  plant  growth, 
it  is  extremely  difficult  in  the  field  to  determine  to  what  degree 
the  worms  are  responsible  for  any  increase  in  yields  or  improve- 
ment in  quality  of  the  crop.  Obviously  one  should  avoid  any 
practice  that  would  materially  reduce  earthworm  activity. 
Whether  or  not  it  is  practicable  deliberately  to  increase  the  worm 
population  is  another  question  and  one  which  still  lacks  an  an- 


Samples  of  earthworm  casts  and  of  unworked  soil  from  sev- 
eral depths  were  collected  from  a  cultivated  field  and  from  four 


forested  areas  and  subjected  to  chemical  and  mechanical  analyses. 

At  the  time  of  sampling,  the  field  soil  contained  approxi- 
mately three  casts  to  the  square  foot,  averaging  2  ounces  each, 
or  16,000  pounds  to  the  acre. 

In  the  field  soil,  casts  contained  less  exchangeable  hydrogen 
and  a  lower  clay  content  than  the  0-6  inch  layer;  but  the  casts 
had  higher  pH  values  and  were  higher  in  total  and  nitrate 
nitrogen,  organic  matter,  total  and  exchangeable  calcium,  ex- 
changeable potassium  and  magnesium,  available  phosphorus,  base 
capacity,  base  saturation,  and  moisture  equivalent.  Total  mag- 
nesium was  about  equal  in  all  samples. 

Forest  soil  samples  showed  similar  but  even  more  striking 
results.  Forest  soil  casts  were  higher  in  nitrogen,  organic  carbon, 
and  exchangeable  calcium,  and  had  a  higher  moisture  equivalent 
than  the  casts  from  the  field  soil. 

These  changes  in  composition  as  the  result  of  earthworm 
activity  are  due  chiefly  to  the  intimate  mixing  of  plant  and  animal 
remains  with  mineral  soil  in  the  digestive  tract  of  the  worm  and 
to  the  action  of  digestive  secretions  on  the  mixture.  That  earth- 
worms are  beneficial  to  the  soil  has  been  established  beyond  a 
doubt.  Conditions  favorable  to  the  worms,  however,  are  at  the 
same  time  favorable  to  plant  growth,  and  quantitative  measure- 
ments under  field  conditions  of  the  part  the  worms  play  in  crop 
production  have  not  as  yet  been  obtained. 


(1)  BLANCK,  E.,  AND  GIESCKE,  F.     1924     [On  the  influence  of  earthworms 

on  the  physical  and  biological  properties  of  the  soil.]  Ztschr. 
Pflanzenernahr.  Diingung.  u.  Bodenk.  3  (B)  :  198-210.  (Abstract 
in  Exp.  Sta.  Rec.  54:718.  1926.) 

(2)  DARWIN,   C.     1837    The   formation  of   vegetable  mould  through  the 

action  of  worms.  Trans.  Geol.  Soc.  (London)  5 :505.  [Also  in 
book  form :  D.  Appleton  and  Co.,  New  York.  1882.] 

(3)  HENSEN,  V.     1882    Uber  die  Fruchtbarkeit  des  Erdbodens  in  ihrer 

Abhangigkeit  von  den  Leistungen  der  in  der  Erdrinde  lebenden 
Wurmer.  Landw.  Jahrb.  11:661-698. 


(4)  LINDQUIST,  B.     1941  [Investigations  of  the  importance  of  some  Scan- 

dinavian earthworms  for  the  decomposition  of  broadleaf  litter 
and  for  the  structure  of  mull.]  (In  Swedish,  German  summary.) 
Svensk.  Skog  wards  for.  Tidskr.  39:179-242.  (Abstract  in  BioL 
Abs.  D16,  entry  6276.) 

(5)  POWERS,  W.  L.,  AND  BOLLEN,  W.   B.   1935    The  chemical  and  bio- 

logical nature  of  certain  forest  soils.    Soil  Sci.  40:321-329. 

(6)  Pun,    P.    C.    1941    Beneficial    influence    of    earthworms    on    some 

chemical  properties  of  the  soil.  Sci.  Soc.  China,  BioL  Lab. 
Contrib.,  Zool  Ser.  15:147-155. 

(7)  ROBERTSON,  J.   D.   1936    The   function  of   the  calciferous  glands  of 

earthworms.    Jour.  Exp.  BioL  13:279-297. 

(8)  RUSSELL,  E.  J.  1910    The  effect  of  earthworms  on  soil  productiveness. 

Jour.  Agr.  Sci.  3:246-257: 
(8)  SALISBURY,  E.  J.  1924    The  influence  of  earthworms  on  soil  reaction 

and  the  stratification  of   undisturbed  soils.    Jour.  Linnean  Soc., 

Bot.  46:415-425. 
(10)  STOCKLI,  A.    1928    Studien  iiber  den   Einfluss  des  Regenwurm  auf 

die  Beschaff enheit  des  Bodens.    Landw.  Jahrb.  Schweiz  42 :5-121. 


The  New  Frontier 

THE  crowding  populations  of  the  earth  stand  on  the  last 
frontier — the  lands  beneath  their  feet.  Migration  to  more  fa- 
vored regions  is  no  longer  possible.  On  every  border  stands  a 
man  with  a  gun,  warning:  "You  can't  come  here."  There  is  no 
more  land.  It  is  all  preempted,  with  a  sign  erected,  "No  Tres- 
passing— Keep  Off!"  Each  country  is  determined  to  reserve 
and  conserve  its  dwindling  supply  of  topsoil  to  feed  its  own  peo- 
ple. Practically  all  countries  in  the  world,  particularly  the  more 
densely  populated,  now  face  or  will  eventually  face  a  need  for 
more  arable  land.  There  is  only  one  possible  way  to  supply  this 
pressing  demand,  and  that  is  to  build  more  soil. 

We  have  called  this  last  frontier  a  "new  frontier" — a  place 
of  opportunity  whereon  we  conceive  of  the  possibility  of  literally 
building  a  new  earth  to  supply  more  richly  all  our  needs  and  de- 
sires, both  in  the  immediate  future  and  for  many  generations  to 
come.  The  individual  can  exploit  the  potentialities  of  this  new 
frontier  to  his  own  immediate  benefit.  An  entire  nation  can  de- 
velop this  new  frontier  for  the  present  generation  and  for  future 
generations.  Our  concept  is  not  based  upon  some  magic  formula 
for  synthetic  soil-building,  or  speculative  synthetic  production  of 
food.  Using  the  same  tried  and  tested  tools,  forces,  and  ma- 
terials with  which  nature  works,  but  at  a  highly  accelerated  tempo, 
supplemented  and  aided  by  the  use  of  modern  machinery  and  the 
accumulated  knowledge  of  the  forces  and  materials  with  which 



we  work,  we  can  build  topsoil  and  accomplish  within  a  period  of 
months  or  a  few  short  years  what  nature  requires  decades  and 
even  centuries  to  accomplish.  Nature  has  provided  the  example, 
with  simple  and  definite  instructions  written  into  the  geological 
pages  of  the  earth,  in  processes  which  we  can  observe,  utilize, 
and  improve  upon.  In  the  foregoing  chapters  of  this  book  we 
have  discussed  the  examples  and  lessons  which  nature  has  pro- 

As  has  been  pointed  out  over  and  over,  topsoil  is  the  living 
surface  of  the  earth  upon  which  all  life  depends — both  vegetable 
and  animal  life.  This  living  surface  is  a  very  thin  blanket, 
stretched  over  the  earth,  threadbare  in  many  places,  with  vast 
areas  of  sterile  rock  and  eroded  slopes  showing  through.  By  far 
the  greater  part  of  the  earth's  surface  is  measured  in  millions  of 
square  miles  of  non-arable  land — deserts,  mountains,  swamps, 
steaming  tropical  jungles.  The  limited  area  of  arable  land  has 
been  closely  estimated,  surveyed  or  measured. 

The  meaning  of  "limited,"  as  applied  to  the  arable  topsoil 
of  the  earth  can  be  best  illustrated  by  asking  and  answering  two 
simple  questions,  involving  rudimentary  mathematics: 

Question:  "How  much  cultivable  land  is  there  in  the  world?" 

Answer:  "Approximately,  four  billion  acres." 

Question:  "How  many  people  are  there  in  the  world?" 

Answer:  "Over  two  billion." 

That  is,  there  are  an  average  of  about  two  acres  of  arable 
land  per  person.  Consider  the  situation  in  what  is  probably  the 
most  favored  land  in  the  world — the  United  States.  With  our 
present  population,  we  have  approximately  three  acres  of  arable 
land  per  person.  Much  of  .this  land  is  so  depleted  that,  commer- 
cially considered,  it  is  hardly  profitable  to  farm  it.  Of  what  we 
would  call  good  farm  land,  we  have  approximately  two  acres  per 
person.  The  people  of  the  United  States  barely  feed  themselves. 
While  we  export  a  great  deal  of  food,  yet  in  normal  times  our 
imports  of  food  practically  balance  exports.  Were  we  to  provide 
a  minimum  standard  of  nutrition,  as  outlined  by  our  government 


experts,  carefully  apportioned  to  our  entire  population,  there 
would  be  at  all  times  an  actual  food  shortage  in  the  United  States. 
Our  lend-lease  food  export  program  during  World  War  II,  and 
immediately  following  the  war,  has  graphically  brought  to  the 
attention  of  all  our  people  the  sad  fact  that  there  is  not  enough 
food  to  go  around  unless  we  are  willing  to  reduce  radically  our 
standards  of  nutrition. 

From  the  above,  and  from  even  a  casual  survey  of  facts  and 
available  figures,  we  can  see  that  the  problem  of  providing  for 
our  own  growing  population,  to  say  nothing  of  the  population 
pressure  throughout  the  balance  of  the  world,  is  immediate  and 
pressing  and  not  something  to  be  considered  in  the  distant  future. 
Soil-conservation  is  not  enough.  In  addition  to  conserving  and 
increasing  the  productivity  of  the  soil  we  have,  rebuilding  and 
conditioning  our  so-called  "worn  out"  soils  and  sub-marginal 
lands,  we  must  build  more  soil  on  favorably  located  non-arable 
land.  We  have  some  hundreds  of  millions  of  acres  of  such  lands 
on  our  new  frontier.  To  exploit  this  new  frontier,  it  is  necessary 
only  to  apply  the  knowledge  which  we  have  to  the  available  ma- 
terials which  we  have.  So  far  as  the  knowledge  is  concerned,  we 
refer  to  the  accumulated  technical  information  of  the  entire  world 
of  science.  For  our  purpose,  it  is  necessary  merely  to  call  atten- 
tion to  this  field  of  knowledge,  and  we  can  now  add  to  it  the  new 
knowledge  of  atomic  energy,  the  possibilities  of  which  have  not 
yet  been  explored  for  constructive  use.  For  source  materials 
with  which  to  work,  we  briefly  call  attention  to  the  mineral  re- 
sources of  the  earth  itself.  Throughout  the  incalculable  ages  of 
the  past,  from  the  conception  of  primordial  chaos  down  to  the 
present  world  of  form  and  substance  as  we  know  it,  the  parent 
mineral  base  of  topsoil  has  been  formed  and  deposited.  In  the 
superficial  layers  of  the  earth,  from  the  visible  surface  on  down 
to  the  bedrock,  we  have  the  inexhaustible  parent  mineral  material 
of  topsoil  available  for  soil-building.  The  other  source-parent- 
material  of  topsoil  is  vegetation  and  animal  life,  but  primarily 

THE    NEW    FRONTIER  171 

we  should  designate  it  as  energy  operating  through  what  we  popu- 
larly term  "substance"  or  "material"  in  the  mysterious  processes 
of  life. 


Accepting  gold  as  a  symbol  of  value  or  wealth,  the  greatest 
gold  mine  is  located  in  the  sky.  We  mean  the  sun — figuratively 
speaking  and  literally  speaking — the  source  of  all  life  on  this 
planet,  earth.  And  from  the  standpoint  of  soil-building  on  the 
new  frontier,  the  sun  is  the  primary  source  of  topsoil,  and  the 
earth  is  the  secondary  source. 

Let  us  quote  from  the  book  To  Hold  This  Soil  by  Russell 
Lord* : 

Blazing  hot,  10,000°  F.  at  the  surface  and  enormously  hotter 
within,  the  sun  is  earth's  immediate  source  of  life.  Most  sun 
power  goes  out  to  other  heavenly  bodies  or  far  off  into  space; 
only  about  one  two-billionth  part  reaches  the  earth.  Even  so,  the 
delivered  energy  averages  three-eights  horsepower,  day  and  night, 
on  each  square  yard  of  land  and  sea.  At  noon,  when  the  rays 
strike  perpendicularly,  the  sun  delivers  lj^  horsepower  to  the 
square  yard,  upwards  of  4J/2  million  horsepower  to  the  square 
mile,  or  7,260  horsepower  to  the  acre. 

Windmills  run  by  sunpower.  If  the  sun  did  not  heat  dif- 
ferent parts  of  earth's  surface,  and  different  layers  of  its  water- 
laden  atmosphere  unevenly,  no  winds  would  blow.  The  sun 
draws  surface  water  up  for  another  run  down  the  face  of  the 
continents.  It  is  the  pumping  heart  of  the  circulatory  water  sys- 
tem that  keeps  earth  alive. 

Winds  blow,  clouds  mount  the  wind,  rain  falls,  and  the  lands 
are  replenished.  Streams  and  rivers  flash  to  the  sea,  clouds  form  ; 
and  the  cycle  continues.  "All  the  rivers  run  into  the  sea ;  yet  the 
sea  is  not  full ;  unto  the  place  from  whence  the  rivers  come. . . 
they  return  . . ." — Ecclesiastes  1 :7. 

*Miscdlaneous  Publication  No.  321,  U.  S.  Department  of  Agriculture, 
under  the  heading  of  "Celestial  Dynamics." 


Sun  power  drives  the  weather  mill  that  grinds  soil  and  pro- 
pels still-secret  processes  by  which  in  soil,  sea,  leaf,  and  flesh,  our 
common  ingredients — sun,  air,  water  and  a  sprinkling  of  earthy 
minerals — combine  into  all  forms  of  life  and  energy,  including 

Our  power  age  is  a  governed  explosion  of  buried  sun  power. 
When  coal,  petroleum,  and  gasoline  are  burned,  they  deliver  en- 
ergy the  sun  stored  in  plants  aeons  ago.  Farmers  plowing, 
miners  digging,  Sundays  motorists  out  for  an  airing,  airplane 
drivers  streaking  for  Europe  or  South  America — all  are  develop- 
ing in  their  various  persons  and  from  their  subject  beast  or 
equipage,  sun  power  previously  fixed  for  use  through  a  film  of 
soil ... 

Now  for  the  transition  from  the  poetical  statement  of  the 
abstract  generalization  to  the  more  prosaic  practical  application 
and  analysis  of  the  concrete  facts : 

The  dominant  color  of  the  earth — what  we  might  justifiably 
call  the  color  of  life — is  green.  Life  endures  because  the  earth 
is  green,  the  color-evidence  of  the  existence  of  a  substance  which 
has  been  called  the  most  important  material  in  the  world :  chloro- 
phyll, leaf-green.  Practically  all  the  green  substances  of  the  plant 
world  are  so  closely  related  chemically  that  they  may,  for  prac- 
tical purposes,  be  designated  as  leaf-green  or  chlorophyll.  The 
sun,  acting  upon  the  chlorophyll  in  the  leaf  of  plants  through 
the  process  known  as  "photosynthesis,"  produces  sugar  within 
the  plant.  And  sugar  is  the  beginning  of  life,  the  chemical  start 
and  nucleus  around  which  the  more  complex  compounds  of  pro- 
toplasm are  formed.  For  a  brief  and  masterly  discussion  of  the 
meaning  of  chlorophyll,  we  refer  the  reader  to  a  chapter  in  The 
Green  Earth,  by  Harold  William  Rickett,  under  the  heading  of 
"The  Green  Color  of  Plants  and  What  Comes  of  It."  As  one 
simple  illustration,  the  sunlight,  acting  upon  the  chlorophyll  in 
5  square  inches  of  potato  leaf  will  produce  about  1  gram  of 
sugar  per  month.  Quoting  from  The  Green  Earth,  "...  A 
man  may  use,  in  the  same  time  (1  month),  the  sugar  made  by 
30,000  such  leaves.  He  may  not,  indeed,  eat  so  much  sugar;  but 
all  the  food  in  his  potatoes  and  in  all  the  other  comestibles  which 


come  to  his  table  is  derived  from  the  sugar  made  in  the  leaves 
of  plants — potato  plants  and  others.  A  definite  number  of  leaves, 
whether  grown  in  the  fields  or  in  a  glasshouse,  whether  nourished 
directly  by  the  soil  or  by  the  ingredients  of  soil  purified  and  dis- 
solved in  water  to  make  a  nutrient  solution, — a  definite  area  of 
leaf  surface  is  necessary  for  the  support  of  one  man  for  one 
month."  So  much  for  the  place  the  sun  occupies  in  the  produc- 
tion of  food  for  man.  And  the  same  nutrient  elements  which 
man  uses  are  also  used  by  the  plant  world  in  the  growth  of  vege- 
tation. The  nutrition  of  man  and  all  animal  life  is  merely  an 
incidental  function  of  vegetation.  In  its  entirety,  we  see  all 
vegetation  as  a  parent  material  of  topsoil,  in  its  eventual  break- 
ing down  and  disintegration  of  the  earth  to  form  the  vital  surface 
layer  of  homogenized  earth. 

Vegetation  is  bedded  in  topsoil.  Deep  into  the  secret,  neces- 
sary darkness  of  the  earth  the  roots  of  plants  ramnify,  selecting 
the  mineral  elements  which  enter  into  their  structure.  Into  the 
air  reach  the  bole  and  branches,  spreading  the  leaf-green  sur- 
face to  the  sun;  and,  through  the  action  of  sunlight  on  chloro- 
phyll, appropriating  the  all-pervading  nutritional  elements  from 
the  air.  Into  the  structure  of  the  plant,  through  the  life- forces 
working  in  the  necessary  light  of  day  and  working  in  the  equally 
necessary  dark  of  the  night  and  dark  of  the  earth,  are  combined 
the  nutritional  elements  of  life  in  the  exact  proportions  necessary 
to  reproduce  the  plant.  From  the  parent  repository  of  the  air 
come  95%  by  weight — carbon,  oxygen,  hydrogen  and  nitrogen. 
From  the  parent  repository  of  the  earth  come  5%  by  weight — - 
potassium,  silicon,  calcium,  phosphorus,  sodium,  magnesium,  sul- 
phur, chlorine,  iron,  with  traces  of  many  other  known  elements 
of  the  universe.  To  provide  a  chemical  picture  of  the  estimated 
average  composition  of  the  vegetation  of  the  earth,  expressed  in 
pounds  per  thousand  pounds  of  dry  matter,  we  will  give  a  break- 
down table  of  the  figures.  The  figures  are  taken  from  Soil  and 
Civilisation  by  Milton  Whitney,  Chief  of  the  Bureau  of  Soils, 



U.  S.  Department  of  Agriculture,  with  rearrangement  for  pur- 
poses of  illustration. 

1000      POUNDS      OF     DRY     VEGETATION 

From  air 
Carbon  (C)     .. 
Oxygen  (O)    . . 
Hydrogen    (H) 
Nitrogen    (N) 

Pounds~\  A     total     of     950^ 

. .  443.0  I   pounds  of  elements      Protein 

Food  classification 

100  pounds 

429.0  ^derived    from    the  ^Carbohydrates  .  820  pounds 

61.8  (   air,  representing  . .      Fats  30  pounds 

16.2J  j 

From  earth 

Potassium    (K)    .  .  16.8 

Silicon    (Si)    7.0 

Calcium  (Ca)   ....  6.2 

Phosphorus    (P)    .  5.6 

Sodium   (Na)    ....  4.3 

Magnesium    (Mg) .  3.8 

Sulphur   (S)    3.7 

Chlorine  (Cl)    2.2 

Iron    (Fe)    0.4  . 

A  total  of  50  pounds  of  the  named  mineral  ele- 
ments derived  from  the  earth,  all  entering  into 
or  assisting  in  the  manufacture  of  the  above 
named  food  materials.  While  we  have  not  named 
other  trace  elements,  such  as  Boron,  which  con- 
stitute a  minute  part  of  the  whole,  these  trace 
elements  are  of  tremendous  importance  and  can- 
not be  ignored  in  arriving  at  final  conclusions. 
These  figures  have  been  given  to  illustrate  and 
emphasize  the  part  which  the  sun  plays  in  pro- 
viding, through  photosynthesis,  the  major  part 
by  weight  of  parent  material  for  the  building 
of  topsoil. 

From  the  foregoing  pages,  we  can  see  that  we  will  have  no 
shortage  of  parent  materials  with  which  to  work  and  exploit  the 
new  and  last  frontier.  We  hear  the  age-old  soldier-crusader  cry, 
the  eternal  questioning  cry  of  conquering  man  on  his  upward 
path,  "Where  do  we  go  from  here?"  As  the  idea  takes  hold  of 
the  constructive  mind  and  creative  imagination,  the  entire  surface 
of  the  earth  becomes  a  pleasant  work-ground.  There  are  no  waste 
places:  all  is  right  and  useful  to  the  all-seeing  and  comprehend- 
ing mind  of  man.  The  earth  and  the  fullness  thereof  becomes 
a  new  earth.  We  see  that  we  can  spread  the  sun- trap  of  leaf- 
green  in  practically  all  the  so-called  waste  places  of  the  earth, 
to  catch  and  transform  the  inexhaustible  resources  of  the  air  into 
usable,  soil-building  material  for  man.  The  tropical  jungles,  with 
their  myriad  forms  of  quick-growing  vegetation,  insect  and  ani- 


mal  life,  become  a  region  for  profitable  harvest.  The  parent  ele- 
ments of  topsoil,  the  parent  elements  of  life  itself,  cannot  elude 
us.  We  have  our  earth,  with  the  roots  of  vegetation  to  search 
out  and  mine  the  mineral  elements  from  it;  we  have  our  sun- 
trap  and  the  sun,  to  catch  and  hold  the  elements  from  the  air 
while  we  transport  them  to  the  place  of  ultimate  use.  And  we 
have  the  earthworm,  holding  the  secret  of  soil-building  and  wait- 
ing to  become  the  servant  of  man  in  the  day  and  hour  when  man 
needs  a  new  servant. 

As  has  been  pointed  out,  any  individual  can  harness  the 
earthworm  to  build  soil.  Such  individual  use  is  a  very  simple 
matter.  However,  in  the  larger  use  of  earthworms,  their  utiliza- 
tion becomes  an  engineering  problem  to  be  worked  out  by  en- 
gineers. In  the  larger  use,  we  can  utilize  standard  heavy  ma- 
chinery, such  as  tractors,  bulldozers,  dredges,  road-buiding  ma- 
chinery, compost  grinding  machines,  shredders.  Eventually  all 
sewage  and  garbage  disposal  will  become  a  soil-building  opera- 
tion, in  its  final  stages  a  biological  process.  The  waste  products 
of  the  world  will  feed  the  world.  The  garbage  of  a  city  will  be 
transformed  into  enough  topsoil  to  produce  food  for  the  city  in 
a  recurring  cycle.  It  is  not  our  purpose  to  attempt  to  go  into 
engineering  details,  but  to  indicate  and  point  out  the  possibilities, 
based  on  known  facts. 

Throughout  the  ages  of  the  past  the  earthworm  in  nature 
has  been  a  master-builder  of  topsoil  on  the  old  frontiers.  The 
earthworm  is  destined  to  become  a  master-builder  of  topsoil  on 
the  new  frontier,  harnessed  and  used  intensively  in  the  controlled 
service  of  man. 

Conclusion  —  Summary 

"Animal  life  in  all  its  forms,  from  microbe  to  man,  is  the 
great  transformer  of  vegetation  into  perfect  earthworm  food,  the 
animal  life  itself,  in  the  end,  becoming  food  for  the  earthworm. 
In  the  process  of  transformation,  a  small  percentage  becomes  ani- 
mal tissue,  but  most  of  it  becomes  humus-building  food  for 
worms.  In  the  feeding  of  domestic  animals,  such  as  cattle,  sheep 
and  hogs,  out  of  each  100  pounds  of  grain  fed,  on  the  average, 
89l/2  pounds  becomes  excrement,  waste  and  gases,  and  10% 
pounds  is  represented  by  increase  in  animal  weight. 

"In  a  never-ending  cycle  untold  millions  of  tons  of  the 
products  of  forest  and  farm,  orchard  and  garden,  are  harvested, 
to  be  transformed  into  potential  earthworm  food  after  they  have 
nourished  animal  life  and  served  man.  All  the  biological  end- 
products  of  life — kitchen  and  farm  waste,  dead  vegetation,  ma- 
nures, dead  animal  residues — constitute  the  abundant  cheap  source 
of  earthworm  food,  waiting  to  be  utilized  in  a  profitable  manner 
through  the  scientific,  intensive  culture  of  domesticated  earth- 

"The  unseen  and  microscopic  life  of  the  earth  beneath  the 
soil  is  vastly  greater  than  the  animal  life  which  we  see  above  the 
earth  as  birds,  beasts,  and  men.  In  fertile  farm  land  we  may 
find  as  high  as  7,000  pounds  of  bacteria  per  acre  in  the  super- 
ficial layers  of  topsoil,  eternally  gorging  on  the  dead  and  living 
vegetable  material,  on  each  other  and  en  dead  animal  residues — 



all  producing  earthworm  food,  all  becoming,  in  turn,  earthworm 
food.  The  unseen  vegetable  life  of  the  soil — algae,  fun-gi, 
moulds — form  an  additional  great  tonnage  of  material  that  eventu- 
ally becomes  earthworm  food.  The  living  network  of  fine  roots, 
so  important  in  holding  the  soil  in  place,  constitutes  about  one- 
tenth  by  weight  of  the  total  organic  matter  in  the  upper  six 
inches  of  soil — all  are  eventual  earthworm  food.  In  the  good 
black  soils  the  organic  matter — earthworm  food — is  represented 
by  from  140  to  as  high  as  600  tons  of  humus  per  acre.  The 
earthworm  will  not  go  hungry . . ." 

About  the  first  question  people  ask  is,  "What  do  you  feed 
earthworms!57'  The  above  quotation  from  former  pages  indicates 
the  answer  to  this  question.  In  a  few  comprehensive  words, 
the  answer  is :  "Whatever  has  lived  and  died — both  vegetable  and 
animal — is  what  we  feed  earthworms."  In  this  discussion  of 
earthworm  food  we  have  the  key  to  soil-building. 

In  the  superficial  layers  of  earth's  surface,  down  to  the  bed- 
rock, is  deposited  the  parent  mineral  material  of  topsoil.  In  the 
world  of  vegetation  and  animal  life  we  have  the  second  great 
parent  source-material  of  topsoil.  Stated  another  way,  we  might 
say  that  the  two  parent  sources  of  topsoil  are:  (1)  the  mineral 
surface  layers  of  the  earth;  and  (2)  sunlight,  acting  upon  leaf- 
green  (chlorophyll)  to  synthesize  the  gaseous  elements  from  the 
air.  Then,  through  life-processes — bacterial  action,  earthworm 
action,  fermentation,  growth,  decay,  etc. — the  parent  materials 
are  mixed,  combined  and  compounded  into  what  we  know  as  top- 
soil  ;  or  what  Charles  Darwin  called  "vegetable  mould." 

Nature  works  slowly  in  the  production  of  topsoil,  over  pe- 
riods of  years,  centuries,  or  ages.  In  biological  soil-building,  as 
we  have  termed  it,  we  take  the  materials  which  nature  has  pro- 
vided, with  the  tools  and  forces  which  we  have  learned  to  use, 
and  speed  up  the  processes  of  nature.  Thus  we  can  build  topsoil 
when  we  want  it,  where  we  want  it,  and  in  whatever  quantity 
desired.  The  reason  we  can  do  this  is  because,  for  all  practical 
purposes,  we  have  inexhaustible  materials  and  inexhaustible 


forces  with  which  to  work,  limited  only  by  our  visualization  and 
use  of  the  possibilities. 

Earthworms  know  how  to  compound  into  topsoil  the  parent 
materials  of  topsoil.  They  are  limited  in  numbers  only  by  the 
amount  of  available  food  and  we  have  shown  that  there  is,  from 
a  practical  standpoint,  an  unlimited  supply  of  food.  We  know 
how  to  carry  on  intensive  propagation  to  produce  the  necessary 
millions  and  billions  of  earthworms  as  they  may  be  required. 
Each  worm  is  a  miniature  "mill"  for  the  production  of  topsoil. 
If  given  a  chance,  each  worm  will  consume  and  pass  through  its 
body  every  twenty- four  hours  a  weight  of  soil-building  material 
equal  to  its  own  body  weight.  Considered  in  units  of  one  million, 
these  tiny  mills  produce  a  tremendous  tonnage  of  topsoil  in  the 
course  of  a  single  year. 

The  earthworm  is  a  warm-blooded,  air  breathing  "meat"  ani- 
mal. One  or  two  head  of  cattle,  or  a  few  hogs  or  other  domestic 
animals,  will  weigh  a  ton.  The  combined  weight  of  one  million 
mature  domesticated  earthworms  will  approximate  a  ton.  There 
is  no  essential  difference  between  feeding  other  domestic  animals 
to  produce  meat  and  feeding  earthworms  for  intensive  produc- 
tion. However,  while  the  manure  of  other  animals  becomes  food 
for  worms,  the  manure  of  worms  (castings)  is  topsoil  which,  in 
turn,  nurtures  all  ife — directly,  vegetable  life;  indirectly,  all  ani- 
mal life  through  consumption  of  the  vegetable. 

An  old  truism  states  that  "A  chain  is  as  strong  as  its  weakest 
link."  In  the  chain  of  life,  the  weakest  link  in  nature  has  been 
the  S!QW  transition  of  vegetable  and  animal  life  back  to  the  soil 
for  use  again  in  the  eternal  cycle.  In  nature,  the  earthworm  has 
been  one  important  element  of  this  weakest  link  in  the  chain  of 
life.  Now,  by  harnessing  available  materials  and  forces  for  the 
intensive  propagation  and  use  of  earthworms,  we  have  demon- 
strated that  we  can  reinforce  and  transform  this  weakest  link  of 
the  chain  into  the  strongest  link. 

Once  we  catch  the  vision,  take  hold  of  the  principle,  we  can 
go  on  from  there.  It  is  just  as  obvious  as  sunlight.  It  does  not 


take  a  scientist  to  utilize  the  principles — they  are  so  extremely 
simple.  Stated  in  a  few  words,  the  basic  principles  are:  Com- 
post soil-building  earthworm  food;  add  water;  add  worms  or 
earthworm  egg-capsules ;  keep  wet  and  let  nature  take  her  course. 
All  variations  from  these  simple  basic  principles  are  made  for 
convenience  and  efficiency,  regardless  of  whether  we  work  in  a 
small  way  with  a  box  or  tin  can,  or  a  specially  designed  culture 
bed;  or  work  in  a  larger  way  with  carefully  built  compost  beds, 
which  may  contain  even  hundreds  of  tons  of  composted  source 
materials.  In  earthworm  culture  as  in  other  things,  results  will 
naturally  depend  upon  the  skill  and  care  used  in  following  the 
basic  principle  involved. 

We  have  written  a  book  in  an  endeavor  to  create  a  mental 
picture  of  the  most  important  animal  in  the  world — the  earth- 
worm. When  the  question  is  asked,  "Can  I  build  topsoil?"  the 
answer  is  "yes."  And  when  the  first  question  is  followed  by  a 
second  question,  "How  can  I  do  it?"  the  answer  is  "Feed  earth- 


Abyssinia,  44 

Africa,  23,  43-46,  57 

Agriculture,  development,   11;   food 

crops,  20;  use  of  earthworms  in, 

25,  65,  155;  U.  S.  Department  of, 

20,  40,  49,  173,  174 
Agricultural  Treatment,  An,  by  Sir 

Albert  Howard,  149 
Anderson,  W.  A.,  48 
Angleworms,  23,  41,  90,  92,  150 
Annelida,  26 
Aristotle,  26 
Australia,  23 

Backyard  Exploration,  by  Paul  Gris- 
wold  Howes,  28 

Bacteria  in  Relation  to  Soil  Fer- 
tility, by  Dr.  Joseph  E.  Greaves, 

Bear,  Dr.  Firman  E.,  40 

Biodynamic  Farming,  155 

Biological  Abstract,  167 

Blanck,  E.  156,  166 

Blue  Nile,  the,  43,  44,  45 

Bollen,  W.  B.,  156,  163,  167 

Brandling,  23,  89,  90 

Bruce  Museum  of  Natural  History, 

Caldwell,  R.  A.,  47 

California,  47,  78,  83 

California  Experiment  Station,  47 

Celestial  Dynamics,  171 

Ceylon,  23 

"Chemical  Composition  of  Earth- 
worm Casts,  The,"  by  H.  A.  Lunt 
and  H.  G.  M.  Tacobson,  153,  154, 

China,  43,   167 

Citrus  fruit  raising,  78-79,  83 

Compost,  50,  68-71,  109-111,  116- 
127;  pit,  68,  69-70;  large  beds, 
117,  123;  nature's  heap,  21 

Connecticut,  150,  155,  158-159 

Connecticut  Agricultural  Experi- 
ment Station,  153,  155 

Crop  rotation,  73 

Cultivated  soil,  16,  158,  159,  166, 

Culture  beds,  62,  85,  123-147;  con- 
struction, 134 ;  drainage,  124 ;  har- 
vesting, 141 ;  materials,  132 ;  plans 
for,  128-130;  servicing,  138; 
watering,  125 

Darwin,  Charles,  8,  38-40,  52,  74, 84, 
88,  94,  155,  156,  166,  177 

Dewworms,  23 

Djemil,  47 

Domesticated  Earthworms,  14,  25, 
56,  82,  84-93,  95;  definition,  25 

Downs,  D.  B.,  158 

Earthmaster  Earthworm  Culture 
Bed,  131,  138,  139:  care  of,  140; 
construction,  131;  harvesting,  141, 
materials,  132,  133 ;  plans  for,  145- 

Earthmaster  Farm,  15 

Earthmaster  System,  131 

Earthworm  Tillage  Farm,  No.  I, 

Earthworms,  age,  100;  alimentary 
canal,  26-27,  39,  87;  benefits  of, 
164;  breeding  habits,  92,  96;  cal- 
ciferous  glands,  29;  castings,  22, 
24,  27,  29,  30,  40,  43,  46,  48,  92, 
163,  164;  chemical  action  on  soil, 
46,  49,  52,  53,  164;  culture,  65, 
94,  102,  103-147;  digestive  system, 
26,  30,  50,  101;  distribution,  23, 
87,  domestication,  14,  25,  56,  82, 
84,  88,  93-95,  143;  egg  capsules, 
71,  73,  85,  89,  98,  99,  113;  en- 
vironment, 24,  25,  61,  76;  excre- 
tion of  humus,  10,  13,  22 1  family, 
22;  feeding  habits,  28,  29,  31,  63, 
164;  food,  28,  29,  35,  36,  37,  109, 


177,  hybrid,  88-93;  number,  40, 
41,  56,  57,  61,  62,  72,  84,  85;  popu- 
lar names,  23,  90;  propagation, 
61,  84,  90-94;  rapidity  of  increase, 
118,  119;  selective  breeding  and 
feeding,  14,  56,  57,  61-64,  84;  size, 
23,  24,  25,  90;  structure,  26;  till- 
age, 49,  148-152,  154,  155;  weight, 

"Earthworms  in  Role  of  Great  Bene- 
factors of  the  Human  Race,"  by 
W.  A.  Anderson,  48 

Earthworms  of  Ohio,  The,  by  Dr. 
Henry  W.  Olson,  % 

"Earthworms,  150,000  to  the  Acre," 
by  Williams  Haynes,  149-152 

Egypt,  14,  43,  47,  53,  57;  fertility 
of  soil,  46-48,  51 

England,  39,  40,  56,  84,  89 

Europe,  25 

Experiment  Station  Record,  166 

Farm  Forum,  WGY,  41 

Farm  Journal  and  Farmer's  Wife, 
149,  150 

Farming,  25,  65,  155;  general,  65, 
68,  69,  74 

Faulkner,  Edward  H.,  81,  148 

Fertilizers,  chemical,  12,  78,  80,  82, 
151;  organic,  61,  68,  70,  72,  82, 
148,  149;  scientific,  68 

Fishworms,  23,  92,   150 

Flood  Control,  41 

Florida   Agricultural  College,    52 

Food  Crops,  20 

Forest  Service,  United  States  De- 
partment of  Agriculture,  49 

Forest  soil,  41-42,  160,  162 

"Forest  Soil  in  Relation  to  Silvi- 
culture," by  Prof.  Svend  O.  Hei- 
berg,  42 

"Formation  of  Soil,"  by  Curtis 
Fletcher  Marbut,  41 

Formation  of  Vegetable  Mould 
through  the  Action  of  Earth- 
worms, With  Observations  on 
Their  Habits,  The,  by  Charles 
Darwin,  38,  74,  88 

Gallup,    Christopher,    149,    150-152; 

Garbage  disposal,  61,  125-126,  175 


Gardening,  67,  74-75,  102,  103; 
home,  25,  32,  65,  75 

Gezira,  The,  44,  45 

Giescke,  F.,  156,  166 

Greaves,  Dr.  Joseph  K,  77 

Greece,   14 

"Green  Color  of  Plants  and  What 
Comes  of  It,  The,"  by  Harold 
William  Rickett,  172 

Green  Earth,  The,  by  Harold  Wil- 
liam Rickett,  172 

Han  ford  Loam,  78-88 

Harnessing  the  Earthworm,  13,  74, 
93,  153,  155 

Harrowing,    151 

Harvard  University,  35 

Haynes,  Williams,    150 

Heiberg,  Prof,  Svend  O.,  41,  42 

Helodrilus  foetidus,  24 

Helodrilus  trapezoides,  97 

Hensen,  V.,   156,   166 

H.,  H.  A.,  119 

Hilgard,  Dr.  E.  W.,  47 

Hinckley,  Frank,  78-83,  148 

Howard,  Sir  Albert,   149 

Howes,  Paul  Griswold,  28 

Humus,  9,  10,  13;  acid,  39;  defini- 
tion, 20;  distribution,  20,  21,  36; 
"factory  of  nature,"  13,  21,  22, 
73;  fertility  of,  46;  formation  of, 
21,  22 ;  source,  13,  20,  23,  30,  37 

Hybrid  Earthworms,  88-93 

Illinois,  41 
Irrigation,  80 

Jacobson,  H.  G.  M.,  153,  158 
Japan,  43 

Journal  of  Agricultural  Science,  167 
Journal    of   Experimental   Biology, 


Journal  of  Forestry,  42 
Journal    of    the    Linnean    Society, 

Bol,  167 

Khartoum,  43,  44 
Knop,  52 

Lactuca  sativa,  157 
Landwehr  Jahrbuch,  166 
Landwehr  Jahrbuch,    Schweiz,    167 
Lawns,  40,  48,  89,  90 

Life  Cycle,  The,  9,  12,  15,  20,  34,69, 

77,  178 

Lindquist,  B.,  157,  167 
Lord,  Russell,   171 
Lug    boxes,    51,    103-127;    compost 

for,    109-112;    gunny   sacks,   106; 

harvesting,  114-116;  impregnation, 

113;   loading,  112;  marking,  116; 

plans   for,    120,  121 ;   preparation, 

108;     separators,     105;    supports, 

105;  watering,  101,  114 
Lumbricus  terrestris,  23,  90,  97 
Lunt,  H.  A.,  153,  158 

Man  and  the  Earth,  by  Nathaniel 
Southgate  Shaler,  35 

Manure,  25,  70,  110,  126,  149;  earth- 
worm, 178 

Manure  worm,  24,  25,  89,  96 

Marbut,  Curtis  Fletcher,  41 

Mason,  Arthur  J.,  41 

Mechanization,  12,  80 

Megascolides  Australis,  23 

Miscellaneous  Publications,  United 
States  Department  of  Agricul- 
ture, 171 

M.,  Roy  S.,  118 

M  tiller,  156 

Murinov,  A.,  51 

"My  Grandfather's  Earthworm 
Farm,"  by  Dr.  George  Sheffield 
Oliver,  66-76,  82,  87,  148,  149 

New  York  State  College  of  Forest- 
ry, 41,  42 
Night  crawlers,  23 
Night  lions,  23,  90 
Nile  Valley,  The,  43-47,  56,  67 
Non-cultivation  method,  The,  78-80 

Ohio,  65,  66,  67,  72,  84,  87,  88 

Ohio  Biological  Survey,  72,  96 

Ohio  State  University,  72 

Ohio  State  University  Farm,  40,  72 

Oligochacta,  23 

Oliver,  Dr.  George  Sheffield,  65,  66, 


Olson,  Dr.  Henry  W.,  96 
Orchards,  74,  75,  76-83,  102;  use  of 

earthworms  in,  25,  82,  83,  117 
Orchard  worm,   90,  97 
Oregon     Agricultural     Experiment 

Station,  26 

Pheretima  bucculenta,  157 

Phylum  annelida,  23 

Plans,    for    Culture   Beds,    128-130; 

for  Earthmaster  Culture  Beds,  145, 
147;  for  Lug  Boxes,  120,  121 

Plowing,  40,  71,  72,  75,  82,  148,  151 

Plowman's  Folly,  by  Edward  H. 
Faulkner,  81,  148 

Powers,  W.  L.,  26,  156,  163,  167 

Principles  and  Practice  of  Agri- 
cultural Analysis,  by  Dr.  Harvey 
W.  Wiley,  30 

Productive  Soils :  The  Fundamentals 
of  Successful  Soil  Management 
and  Profitable  Crop  Management, 
by  Wilbur  Walter  Weir,  48 

Puh,  P.  C.,  156,  157,  163,  167 

Rainworms,  23,  24,  90,  97 

Resistance  to  pests  and  plant  dis- 
eases, 55 

Rickett,  Harold   William,    172 

Robertson,  J.  D.,  156,  157 

Rocks  and  Soils :  Their  Origin,  Com- 
position, and  Characteristics,  by 
Dr.  Horace  Edward  Stockbridge, 

Rubins,  E.  J.,  158 
Russell,  E.  J.,  155,  165,  167 

Salisbury,  E.  J.,  156,  167 

Science  Society  of  China,  Biological 
Laboratory  Contribution,  Zoolog- 
ical Service,  167 

Shaler,  Nathaniel  Southgate,  34,  35 

Sheffield,  George,  66,  76 

Small-bristled  ringed  worm,  23 

Soil,  bacteria,  36,  76,  77,  163,  177; 
building,  12,  13,  14,  15,  32,  33,  34, 
35,  37,  42-46,  57,  62,  64,  76,  170, 
173,  174;  chemical  elements,  22, 
29,  30,  35,  49,  51,  52,  53,  54; 
definition  of,  34;  destruction  of, 
12;  source  of  plant  and  animal 
life,  13,  20,  31,  35,  170;  subsoil, 
48,  49,  74,  164;  chemical  elements 
of,  49;  plowing,  74;  topsoil,  13, 
22,  32,  35,  42,  48,  49,  50,  52,  173, 
177-179;  mass  production  of,  42, 
57,  175,  177,  179 

Soil  and  Cultivation,  by  Milton 
Whitney,  173 

Soil  Science,  155,  167 


Soils,  Bureau  of,  United  States  De- 
partment of  Agriculture,  173 

"Soils  and  Men,"  by  Curtis  Fletcher 
Marbut,  41 

Soils -.Their  Formation,  Properties, 
Composition,  and  Relation  to  Cli- 
mate and  Plant  Growth,  by  Dr. 
E.  W.  Hilgard,  47 

South  America,  23,  172 

South  Pasadena  Review,  48 

Stinking  earthworm,   24 

Stockbridge,  Dr.  Horace  Edward,  52 

Stockli,  A.,  157,  167 

Subsoil,  48,  49,  74;  chemical  ele- 
ments, 49;  plowing,  74 

Sudan,  43,  53 

Sun  power,  171,  172 

Svensk  Skogsvardsfor.  Tidskr.,  167 

Tana  Lake,  44 

Theory  and  Practice  in  the  Use  of 

Fertilizers,    by    Dr.     Firman    E. 

Bear,  40 
To  Hold  This  Soil,  by  Russell  Lord, 

Topsoil  13,  22,  32,  35,  42,  48,  49,  50, 

52,  173,  177-179;  mass-production 

of,  42,  57,  175,  177,  179 
Transactions     of     the     Geological 

Society,  London,  166 

United  States,  20,  23,  56,  8V 
United  States  Department  of  Agri- 
culture, 20,  41,  49,  174;  Bureau  of 
Soils,    173;    Experiment    Station 
Record,     43,     51;     Miscellaneous 
Publications,  171,   174;   Yearbook 
for  1938,  41 ;  Department  of  Agri- 
culture Yearbook,  20 
University  of  California,  47 
University  of  Wisconsin,  49 
Utah  Agricutural  College,  77 

Vegetable  Mould,   38,    177 

Weir,  Dr.  Wilbur  Walter,  48 
WGY  Farm  Forum,  41 
White,  Gilbert,  155 
White  Nile,  the,  43 
Whitney,  Milton,   173 
Wiley,  Dr.  Harvey  W.,  30 
Wolff,  52 
Wolney,  47 

Yearbook  of  the  United  States  De- 
partment of  Agriculture  for  1938, 

Yearbook  of  the  United  States  De- 
partment of  Agriculture  Statistics, 

(Continued  from  front  flap) 

Earthworm  and  Its  Environment,"  includ 
the  earthworm  in  nature  and  in  scient 
literature.  Part  II  presents  "The  Ear 
worm  Under  Control,"  revealing  the  me 
ods  which  have  enabled  the  author  to  t 
a  barren  desert  hillside  into  a  luxuriant  p; 
disc.  The  photographs,  charts,  diagra 
and  working  drawings  are  valuable  aids 

".  .  .  .  the  directions  for  culture  and 
on   either  small   or   large  scale,   are  spec 
and  concise."  —  American  Library  Asso, 
tion  Booklist. 


Thomas  J.  Barrett  was  born  in  Coll 
Grove,  Tennessee,  in  1884.  Educated 
Ruskin  University,  Northwestern  Acadei 
American  College  of  Osteopathic  Medic 
and  Surgery,  and  Chicago  College  of  Mi 
cine  and  Surgery,  he  has  been  physic 
printer,  reporter,  editor,  soldier,  and  : 
lance  news  photographer  in  Canada,  Mex 
and  the  United  States.  Trained  for  map 
production  in  the  field  he  served  throi 
World  War  I  with  the  lllth  United  St; 
Engineers.  In  1936  he  began  earthworm  ; 
soil-building  research,  establishing  "Ear 
master  Farms,"  Roscoe,  Calif.,  as  an  exp 
mental  center.  He  spent  nearly  3  years  ; 
laboratory  assistant  in  plant  physiology 
California  Institute  of  Technology.  He 
contributor  to  Magazine  Digest,  Encyt 
[n'dia  Britannica,  Jr.,  and  other  publicatic 
He  is  the  author  of  Eartbivorms:  Their 
tensive  Propagation  and  Use  in  Biolog 
Soil -Build  ing,  The  Pruning  Knife, 
other  scientific  and  popular  writings.  I 
ture  articles  about  "Earthmaster  Farn 
with  pictures,  have  appeared  in  many  le 
ing  newspapers  and  magazines  through 
the  world. 

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By  a  distinguished  scientist,  this  manual  is  a  useful  guide  to  the  inverte- 
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